The Front Porch

The Front Porch Tour Guide

There is so much work involved in rebuilding this porch, this page is going to be lengthy.  Use these links to get to the stuff you really want to read about.

An Engineering Nightmare


Repairing the Damage


The Balusters

The Upper Detail

Porch Ceiling

Completed Pictures


At a distance it's not so bad...

Well, here it is, it's the front of our house, and here is the front porch.  The porch is the only exterior element that has changed over the years.  This is the third porch the house has had.  In fact, the house originally didn't have this big front porch at all. (which we discovered just recently).  This porch was added to the house around 1920.  It was rebuilt in the 1990's but it essentially looks as it has for the past 80+ years.  Now it is time to rebuild it once again.  There are a number of issues that require immediate attention, and a laundry list of cosmetic issues to follow.  Let's start with the critical issues.  I like to call this the "Triage Stage"


An Engineering Nightmare

Okay kids, welcome to Porches 101.  The first thing we are going to learn today is: what porches are for...  They are to provide shade, but more importantly, to keep us dry when it rains.  Porches also help to draw damaging rain water away from the house.  Unless YOU PITCH THE ROOF TOWARD THE HOUSE!!!  Remember class: "Water is the Devil's best friend".  Keep water away from the house at all costs!


The short of it is that at some point the roof was pitched incorrectly.  The jury is still out on when or why but this basic engineering error caused water to run down the face of the house on the front south corner.  Over the course of years, it completely rotted this corner of the house.  


The initial cause of the failure was poor building materials.  All of the header beams were made of pairs of 2x8's. But this one was made of 2X6 with a 2X4 along it's edge.  This beam failed under the weight of the roof.  All I can figure is that they ran out of 2X8's and just used what was laying around the jobsite. The result was a structural failure.  The 2X6 beam slowly buckled under the weight of the roof.  As it did, the water began to gather in the wood gutters and eventually poured over the edge into the fascia boards and the beam beneath.  The cycle of destruction had begun.  The new porch will use paired 2x8's for all headers and have 2 additional posts offering twice the support so that this does not happen again.


Let's see just how bad it is...

After removing all of the Trailer skin and the fascia boards the forensic remains of an 8 inch think beam was revealed.  The fact that the roof was still intact was a bit of a miracle.  This was worse than I had thought.  This needed immediate attention, as in TODAY!!  Before a gentle breeze knocks the roof down!


First priority, stop the bleeding...

I screwed some cross supports onto the ceiling joists, and carefully jacked them up, relieving the pressure from the destroyed beam.  I used 2X6's to support the roof.  Whew! Now I could take a breath of relief...


The beam literally was removed in pieces without tools.  It simply crumbled like weak Styrofoam.  Luckily only one roof joist was damaged and that one can be sistered easily. 


Next, all of the Yankee gutters were removed as they were damaged as well.  I installed all new supports, repaired the damaged joist, and installed all new gutters.  I then re-pitched the roof so the water runs away from the house.


The new header beam installed along with a new downspout.  It rained something fierce the night I installed this.  I must have sat on the porch for an hour watching the water run away from the house.  Step One - Complete.



Unfortunately, water damage is like a cancer, it spreads.  The header beam above the staircase had some damage as well. 


So, I repeated the process by jacking up the center roof, cutting out the old beam, and replacing it with a new one.  I have to say for the record, these beams are very heavy and I'm working alone on this, my back is killing me!  Okay, enough with the pity party...back to work!


A discovery answers years of question...

     Since buying the house, there has been quite a bit of speculation about the original front porch.  I was told that the house originally had a wrap around porch, which was later removed.  But nobody had ever seen this, or seen pictures of this either.  It was all speculation.  I spent many hours looking into this and had come to the conclusion that this was not true.  In the past year, I actually met with a woman who grew up in this house in the 1920's (click here).  During this meeting, she told me that she remembers her father doing work on the porch and that it was not safe to play on the porch (she was only 5 years old at the time).  She thought that (maybe) her father had removed the wrap around portion of the porch, while making repairs. 

     Well, the truth is that the house didn't have much of a front porch at all.  It had a small front porch, not much wider than the double front doors themselves.  The proof was under the ceiling of the porch, just waiting to be discovered.

Over the top of each of the two porch windows (which was concealed by the porch ceiling) is the same ornamentation that appears over the rest of the windows on the first floor.  (Drag your mouse over the picture above to see a comparison to a window on the side of the house)  Upon closer inspection, the porch roof actually is built using some of the lumber from the original porch which is the same as the side porch and back porch.


The old posts were then removed and replaced with nice turned ones.  Much better already!


Okay, I know this is really no big deal, so I won't bore you with the details, but the whole porch roof had to be replaced as it was leaking in multiple places.  I was kinda proud that I did this as I had never done a roof before and I was working alone.  I popped a couple ribs out of the center of my back while hauling materials up a ladder.  I'm definitely not as young as I used to be.  I lost two weeks installing the roof and another two recovering from the injury.  There are cases when it is much smarter to call a pro.  Considering lost time, it would have been cheaper.  What can I tell you?  I'm learning as I go along.  (by the way, I did finish the roof and no more leaks!)


Repairing the damage

Now, back to the porch.  A picture is worth a thousand words.  This is the corner where the gutter was, when the roof was pitched wrong.  Now that all that is fixed, it is time to do a little home surgery...


Well we pulled off boards, and cut out the rest. Even the boards underneath were rotted, so we had to remove them too.



Next, we installed the replacement wood from under the clapboard.  Then we installed a layer of Tyvek Home Wrap.  The Tyvek is a very fine, high-density polyethylene fiber material that is vapor permeable, while remaining very strong and water resistant.  (Cool stuff!)


This may look like very little, but let me tell you, this was a whole day's work.  Not one angle was correct due to the house settling in 10 different directions.  This was simply a series of trial and error until it all fit.  I must have made 100 cuts to make this work. 



In order to replicate the corner bead of the house, I took a slice of the original to a local tool supplier.  We went through all kinds of catalogs to find a match to the original.  For those who work with power tools, I showed a picture of this router bit.  It must be at least 3 - 3 1/2 inches wide.  I had to modify the router just to fit it.  In the end, it was worth it as the corner came out exactly like the original.



The final step was to replace all of the clapboard siding.  Not terribly difficult, just time consuming.  The end result of all this was a new corner on the house.  No more water damage! 


A little paint to match the house's current paint job marked the end of the Repair Phase of the project, as everything is now repaired and sealed.  Now we can begin to make the porch pretty.  I hope...


Time for a Facelift

The first step in replacing the fascia boards was to close in the header beams.  After doing that, I had to sister in supports to nail the new fascia boards to.  The original supports are a bit out of square (to say the least). This extra step will help ensure that the rest of the fascia boards fit together with clean 90 degree angles.


It took quite the effort, but the fascia boards are now back on the porch in time for Winter...


With the fascia boards in place, the last step in preparing for winter was to tar line the Yankee gutters.  I used a rubberized roof sealant that goes on cold and forms an amazing seal.  I let it dry and applied a second coat for good measure.  It has been a long Summer, but a new roof, and new tar lined gutters should keep this porch nice and dry for some time to come.


The Balusters

As a (major) side project I decided to start looking for handmade antique balusters from various salvage resellers.  I found a set of 60 of these awesome balusters that were taken off of of an 1880's house in Kansas.


This is a picture of the house in Kansas, after the balusters were removed.  Apparently, they were taken from the front and side porches.  They definitely need some TLC but they are original and worth the effort.  The porch on my house is much larger and will require close to 120 balusters.  The plan: restore these and replicate the rest.  This will keep me more than busy for the entire winter...


Removing the paint is not fun.  This is old milk paint and very difficult to remove. For most of my paint removal projects, I use Peel Away.  Much less fumes and it is much easier to work with in terms of mess.  I just spread it on like icing on a cake...


Then it is wrapped in the paper that comes with the remover and left for 24 hours.  The paint is then peeled off and the baluster is washed off under water to remove the remaining paste and paint. 


The wet baluster is then sprayed with vinegar to neutralize the chemical and is hung up to dry.  I do one or two of these each evening after work.  It's a big job and I have a long way to go. 


Things do not always go as you planned.  Once I got most of the balusters stripped I decided to fit them to see how many more I would need to make to have enough for my front porch.  Okay, so I was a little short in my estimates.  I had around 60 balusters stripped.  I needed 124.  OOPS!  That would mean I would have to make 64 of these by hand.  Well, I accepted my fate and thought that I would pick away at that project in the Winter.  But, the truth is that I was avoiding the whole thing.


I was looking at sawn balusters on-line and found a company that made them in lots of different designs.  (The Company is Empire Woodworks.) I found this design and stopped in my tracks.  It has the same four leaf clover design found in much of the exterior detailing of the house.  They were a perfect match to the house!  When I called, they made me an offer that I simply couldn't refuse so I ordered a new set.  The time saved alone is well worth the expense in this case.  I'm sad that I was not able to use the original ones, but these really are a better match.  I will probably sell the remaining set on eBay or something.



The new balusters obviously don't come pre-painted.  I cannot begin to tell you how much time it takes to prime and paint 124 of these plus railings.  You have to paint them before you install or you will have a runny drip fest on your hands.  I worked on these every day for months.  Yes, months.  What you see in the pictures above is the greatest painting tool made just for painting the detail on these balusters.  I got these from the baluster manufacturer.  It is simply a tick with a thin rod in the end.  At the end of the rod is a hole that you pass a pipe cleaner through.  Then just bend the pipe cleaner in half and slide the little plastic band down to the handle to secure it.  It holds just the right amount of paint.  It gets in every nook without dripping, it cleans in a snap and the pipe cleaners are available anywhere.  This little tool cut my overall paint time by well over 50%.  To most of you reading this, you are probably thinking, "who cares?" but if you ever are faced with this daunting task, you will look at this little tool like a Defribulator that just restarted your heart.


I know this doesn't fit here, but there just isn't much to say about the decking and it had to be refinished before I could proceed with the Baluster installation, so here it is.  The front porch on this house isn't really a porch at all.  The former owners built a deck in the front of the house from deck material and put it under the roof of the former front porch.  As unfitting as that may be, is actually quite sturdy and doesn't really warrant replacement.  Just a little dress up.  Unfortunately they had painted the deck with house paint and it was all peeling up and had made a real mess of the surface.  The fix was that I soaked the deck in a treatment solution (twice) for 30 minutes, then i power washed it off for the next seven hours.  It really sucked doing all of that, but the paint was all gone and the treatment solution left the wood smooth as silk.


Next we painted the porch in two coats of deck paint and it came out looking like new.  The ugly green is almost gone forever Yippeee!


Okay, back to the Balusters.  The next step was to add spacer blocks to the ends and under the center of the bottom rail.  This allows for water drainage and offers extra support to the center of the railings.


Next it was time to mark the posts for the installation of the rail bolts.  I put one baluster in place and measured 9/16" above it and made the mark and drilled a hole.


Next, soap up the rough threads and grab the bolt with a pair of vice grips and carefully twist it into the right depth.


After cutting the top rail to fit, a hole had to be drilled with a Forstner bit on the drill press and then a channel routed up to the hole from the end of the rail.  The hardware is put on the end of the bolt and the rail just slips on.  The rails are tightened to the post by turning that little wheel with a flat blade screwdriver.  Great system! (the rail is turned sideways just for this picture)


The rail is now attached and the mounting bolts are hidden.  A little painter's caulk and a little touch up paint and that seam will be perfect.


Slide in the balusters and nail everything together and Voila!  It really adds personality to the porch and the rest of the house.


The Upper Detail

In order to create an Eastlake style porch, I needed to incorporate certain architectural elements present in other places on the house.  Eastlake is known for using simple geometric shapes.  I took random elements used in the detail in the gables and started messing with ideas.  Eventually, I decided on a design I liked.  I drew patterns for the different pieces, and photocopied the patterns.


I used a spray adhesive to attach the patterns to the wood.  Here I am cutting out one of the pieces on the band saw.  The curve is kinda tight, so I used relief cuts to take the pressure off the blade.


After cutting out the pieces we used a palm sander to remove the paper pattern.


The lamb's tongue detailing was then routed into each of the side pieces.


In this picture, I started assembling the outer and inner pieces using wood screws.  The screw holes were later filled with wood dowel plugs and sanded smooth.


I then primed and painted each one. Yes, the holes were a royal pain to paint.  I painted them four coats of heavy house paint.  It dulls the sharp edges and makes them look like they have been around a while.


I am very pleased with how much character the corbels added to the new/old porch.  I have a long way to go but this gives me inspiration.


The next step was to design some brackets to mount to the columns.  Eastlake, and especially Stick-Style homes need simple lines and shapes to conform to the original style.  I chose the three-circle pattern that appears over some of the windows and in the Gingerbread on the front of the house.  Then I just drew the rest of the design around that pattern.  I then attached the pattern to a piece if Plexiglas and made a template. Then I transferred the pattern onto the wood and began drilling and cutting.



The round parts were removed with a forstner bit on the drill press.  The rest was done on the scroll saw.  The inside cuts were then hand filed to smooth.  The ball at the end is a wooden doll's head that I purchased at a local craft shop.  Then I just did this over and over until done.


The next task was to make up some low profile spandrels to go between the porch's support posts.  Originally I was going to purchase them, but I couldn't find anything that was the size I wanted.  So, it was back to the workshop.  I purchased a bunch of decorative oak plate rails.  These were the right size but way too delicate, so I sandwiched them between two pieces of poplar.  I routed a angled chamfer to match the woodwork on the house.  I assembled them with wood glue and screws and filled the holes with doweling. 



I painted everything three thick coats of paint prior to installation. It makes the parts last longer and they don't look so "new"  Now the porch is starting to look a little Victorian.  Unfortunately I still have a long way to go...


The Ceiling

There is a lot to talk about here, but I don't want to get too into the gory details.  It is much quicker to talk about what was right with the ceiling, then to list all of the problems. (When I think of something that was right, I will let you know.)  The short of it was that either every beam had to be replaced or removed, reinforced, realigned and remounted.  Thank God for my best friend who once again came to the rescue. For 3 1/2 days, he measured, cut, nailed this ceiling while I worked on the fascia boards.


As we installed the plywood sheathing, we added additional supports so that every sheet of plywood was attached to a beam on all four sides.  I realize this is overkill, but with proper maintenance, there is no way this should ever warp.


After three more days of cutting and nailing, the ceiling was sheathed. Now there will be a solid nailing surface for the beaded ceiling to attach to.

The Beaded Ceiling

The tongue and groove bead board I chose to use was a decorative grade.  I could have gone with the thicker stuff, but it was not necessary because it was being attached to a perfectly flat nailing surface and had no real chance of warping.  This cut the cost of this big old ceiling in half and maintained the same exact look.

The next dilemma I faced was making brand new bead board look old.  What I ended up doing was very simple and quite effective.  I tool the fresh boards and sanded all the surfaces with 60 grit sandpaper to open the pours of the wood.  This made staining a breeze as the wood drank up the stain and gave it a nice rich dark tone.  The next step (or lack there of) is the key.  I then coated the wood with two coats of high gloss urethane. The raised wood fibers mixed with gloss finish make for an amazing aged patina.  I have a house full of 100+ year old wood and this fits right in.  Sometimes the answers to complex questions are really quite simple and this is one of those cases.


The installation of this ceiling was a tedious pain in the butt.  Not terribly difficult, just a pain.  It took me most all of the Summer and into the fall to complete.  But it was well worth the effort.


Finally finished after 4 Summers of work


The railings and balusters running down the stairs were the last step and it's complete.  I have loved working with wood (strictly amateurly) ever since I was a young boy.  I have no practical experience, but I feel I have a pretty good eye for things.


When I bought this house, The porch was one of the things that really stood out in my mind as having so much potential.  The more I thought about it, the more I thought that this could be the woodworking project of a lifetime.  This would be a place where I could apply the things I do know and create something special.


I consciously try not to express my emotions about a project as I have been writing this web site.  Mainly because I don't want to come across like I am tooting my own horn.  My goal has simply been to share my experiences as I live them.  But in this case, I have to say that this project is different (to me)


When I sit on this porch and I throw back a cold one, I am truly proud.  I had no clue how to build something like this, and it came out exactly as I first envisioned it.  I really feel it gives the right character to the house.  It compliments it.


This really did turn out to be the woodworking project of a lifetime.  No way will I ever out do this.  And of all the projects I have endured with this crazy house, I hope this is the one that truly lasts.  It would be a really nice mark to leave.


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