Saturday, December 6, 2008

Porch Panel Construction

One of my pet peeves about most restorers is that they build a new porch then go to their local home improvement store and buy some cheap lattice work to "skirt" the raised porch. The finished product doesn't look right because that is not what was originally there. If you look at old pattern books (Dover Press is a great resource) you will see that the front lower areas of porches were finished. Usually in some decorative panelized form. The front entrance of the home was just as important as the front door or the front parlor, so cabinetry design came into play in the construction of one's front porch.
In this case the front and the west side will be "screened" with these panels. The front panel is 60 x 30 and the side panel is 49 x 30. 30 inches is the height between the bottom of the top deck trim and the ground level. In an future posting I will talk about the decorative panel we will use to hide the sides of the framework of the porch floor. This installment is about the building of the "Skirt" that hides the underside of the porch deck.
For the back of the trim we are using 3/4 inch plywood panels. These panels were sealed on the outside edges to prevent delamination. This is critical because if water gets behind the panels you will have problems with bubbling of the wood. You want to make sure ALL sides are sealed not just the front. The panel was then painted on all sides with an exterior paint. In this case we used a Valspar National trust paint called Lafonda Territory Green We used 3 good coats on all sides paying particular attention to the edges. We are being careful to make these panels high enough off the ground that future landscaping mulch beds will be below the bottom of these panels.

One of the biggest mistakes most people make when building exterior trim elements is they use a cheap wood. How many times have you seen a new siding job either with new poplar or Hardi Plank and they use cheap #3 grade trim boards that are full of knots! After a few years you can see every one of these knots as they didnt seal them well and your otherwise nice exterior looks bad.

We are using a Quality grade 1/2 Cabinet Pine to make the panels I also like to use fir if you can get it. Some people like to use Redwood but I find unless it is really dried out properly that paint doesn't take well to it and the resins from the wood tend to bleed through aftera few years.. These are nice smooth boards without knots they take paint well and with proper care will last for years. Look for good straight boards with the tightest grain possible. I always "prime them" with a good clear paintable primer sealer on all sides. Too often people make the mistake of priming the boards then they cut them to size and the edges arent sealed! After a few years they wonder why their project is failing. These boards were then painted with our trim color Del Coronado Amber also a National Trust color. I am using a semi gloss for all trim. I advise against using a gloss finish as it is too shiny and isnt appropriate for a historic house. Once again I used 3 good coats on all sides. These trim panels are then assembled using a biscuit joiner and I use a good exterior grade glue. Do Not use an interior glue as it will not hold up. The assembled panels are clamped with long clamps for at least 24 hours.

To attach the trim face to the panel board I use a good grade exterior construction adhesive. The top face board assemble is then clamped to the back board. I then attach the two together with exterior grade screws which go from the backside into the back of the trim board. TIP: when you get ready to put the screws in dip them in a wood sealer and screw them in while still wet. This will seal the wood fiber so water cant 'wick' into the plywood. Once the screws are in you will fill the screw holes ( which should be slightly inset) with body filler. I then put 1 more coat of paint on the back and a final coat of clear sealer over that. On the front I take an artist brush and put a coat of sealer on where the top trim meets the back panel.I also put quarter round on the bottom of the panel so rain can shed. here again I seal everything with sealer. The center panels will eventally have a stenciled design on them or a decorative wood medallion.

Shown is the side panel. These panels will be attached from the front using exterior grade screws which will then be covered with a plug so if removal is necessary in the future it is easily accomplished. After installation I will cover the entire board with a sprayed on coat of exterior grade finish sealer.


Larry said...

This is contrary to what I have been told. Can you point me to any sites where i can find out more about the skirting?

We are thinking of rebuilding our porch and would like to go with skirting. We were planning on using the thick, tight lattice type.

Paul Wilham said...

While you might see lattice used it was always inset in a frame. Some books to use for reference are from Dover and I recommend the following. "Victorian House Designs in Full color" edited by Blanch Girker, "100 Victorian Architecural Designs" by AJ Bicknell & Co, and "Victorian City and Country Houses" by Geo E.Woodward. You can find them on Amazon but I have found you can usually find a new or used copies on Ebay much cheaper. Another advantage of the Panel Design is that you can hingge one of the panels for maintenace or even constuct a storage box made of treated wood to stote tools or a lawnmower in. Lattice often became a "inexpensive fix" 15-20 years down eth road aftera porch was first built as few wanted to spend the money on more expensive panels. One ned only look at all the Craftsman brick porches added between 1900-1930 to Victorian Houses