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Subject: Re: Wood choice for exterior column base?


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Message Thread:

Wood choice for exterior column base?

Keith Newton

My shop is in a historic neighborhood, so I'm pretty often ask to mill parts for my neighbors.

I was about to head out to buy some Spanish Cedar to glue up for the base of a 12" column, which would be three layers of six segments each with mitered ends, then glued up and turned on the lathe.

I have a pretty good supply of Eastern Red cedar, Juniperus virginian a, which I milled on my Woodmizer, that would be air dried down to ~ 12%.

I'm planning on priming whichever wood I choose with CPES, before delivering to the carpenter that will install. THey will end up being painted white.

What I'm wondering, is whether the AD ER cedar might not be a better choice than the KD Spanish cedar, due to my expectation that the SC will open the outside of the miters as it picks up moisture, going up from 6% before settling on 12%. At least my ERC is already equilibrium.

Also, since my ERC is known to bleed resin, under certain conditions, would the CEPS and then primer prevent that issue, if that is an issue.

Did I mention that the Spanish C will cost me $100?

6/7/16       #2: Wood choice for exterior column bas ...

Why not use pressure treated wood? The ERC will fail fairly rapidly.

In fact, all wood will fail, eventually. I would use PVC for that job - since the end product will be painted why not use something that won't rot.

6/9/16       #3: Wood choice for exterior column bas ...

This is the best WW response ever.

Use pressure treated or better yet use plastic....

6/9/16       #4: Wood choice for exterior column bas ...
David R Sochar Member

I have used Spanish Cedar, Honduras Mahogany and clear Sugar Pine for column bases. The pine failed (open joints, rot starting, etc) after 10 years.

The Cedar and Mahogany still look fine.

I do recommend and supply little 1/4" thick aluminum plate feet for the corners to keep the base off the masonry and out of water. These also allow air circulation into the column interior, an important part of long life for installs.

Pressure treated wood or plastic are certainly inappropriate choices.

6/13/16       #5: Wood choice for exterior column bas ...

Why is PVC "inappropriate"? It doesn't rot and the finished product will be painted.

Sure, you won't have to redo the job and get paid a second time, so I guess from a make-work perspective, doing a job correctly the first time is "inappropriate".

6/13/16       #6: Wood choice for exterior column bas ...
Keith Newton

Thanks David R. I hadn't thought of using aluminum for the little corner feet.

As for the plastic replacement material, this is in a historic district where that would not be acceptable. And I don't have a local source for any treated pine which is not totally saturated, which would lead to disaster. And that was the material used in the last replacement. It was thoroughly decayed.

Maybe in other parts of the world, the standard pressure treated wood isn't S Yellow Pine like here. The PT chemicals only penetrate and protect the sapwood, due to the extractives loading the cells in the heartwood.

As it turned out, I found a Spanish Cedar board left over from long forgotten job in my inventory, which was sufficient for this project, so I'm good.

6/15/16       #7: Wood choice for exterior column bas ...

We do historic preservation stuff fairly often. How much of a exact match to the original that is required varies, a lot. Money often dictating. In extreme cases the crude machining that was originally done must be matched. Aluminum feet would definitely be a no go. Good solution, yup, historically correct, no.

6/15/16       #8: Wood choice for exterior column bas ...
David R Sochar Member

PVC is inappropriate since it is not wood, and I am a professional woodworker. If someone wants to buy and install such things, they can do so.

Using good materials and methods and general best practice is a fine way to supply what is needed. Done correctly, they will last 50 years or more.

Whether historic or not, what I make will fit the bill better than searching for some plastic whizz-bang. I'll have my parts coming off the lathe before you ever find the right sizes and profiles. I am flexible.

Columns were - and still are to some - a sign of the financial horsepower that the owner marshaled to pull off correctly. It takes a lot of building for columns to work. Although if base and cap can be done in plastic, with drain pipe for the shaft (entasis? Who needs it?), why not put these on mobile homes? A garage? Class up the place some.

As for the aluminum feet, sometimes they are rejected by design people. Then they can still be used, just inset a bit with a machined rabbet to the outside so the aluminum takes the weight and wear, while the wood shows to the outside.

In my youth, I learned to put a 1/2" to 1" half round hole at the lower edge on all four sides of the base plinths. The better installers then put a bit of brass wool in each of these holes once in place to keep the bees and other bugs from getting in, while putting hardware cloth over the cap of the column to prevent birds and bats from entering. This also let the air move with thermo circulation, increasing the life of the columns. The fact that no one today knows such details makes for short life and a real "make work perspective."

6/15/16       #9: Wood choice for exterior column bas ...

David, What you got against trailer houses? Some nice 4" diameter Corinthian columns would really class them up. Go right a long with the plastic shutters. We also used to provide vents top & bottom for wood columns. I've since discovered that the painters will typically caulk them full.
Historical preservation jobs are often controlled by committees. Takes a lot of time for them to agree on anything. Some will demand the same lumber species be used, some for something more durable, some for something cheaper. I try to not get involved. If asked I'll give an opinion, sometimes I give one because of stupid choices being made, but make what they want.

6/16/16       #10: Wood choice for exterior column bas ...
David R Sochar Member

There was a builder here a few years ago that bought fluted metal tubes that were sold as columns with no taper, and no caps or bases. He made those out of treated deck scraps.

You've of the Ionic order? His was the ironic order.

I realized the other day that my penchant for good work was started - perhaps - by a boss I had when in my early 20's. He bought some decrepit antiques, many of them broken, falling apart, or missing parts. We would rebuild them and he would sell them for many more times what he paid for them. All above board, he even photographed the 'before' and the after.

In order to determine what we would make this tall case clock, or whatever look right to educated buyers, we used the old book Wallace Nuttig's Furniture Treasury. It had photos of all types and styles of antiques, and they were grouped as good, better and best. We would examine the photos to discern what made the differences and after a while we developed a pretty good working knowledge of better design and/or execution. We would always go for the 'best' and things always sold right away.

So in my life beyond antique repairs, I also applied the same decision making process when faced with the repeated question - How are we going to make this? Shooting for the high ground has always worked out best, no exceptions.

6/23/16       #11: Wood choice for exterior column bas ...
John Bishop  Member


I am not smart enough to figure stuff out so I copy other peoples stuff. The United States government only will certify several woods for exterior use. The mahogany as mentioned already and Cyprus. We have use Cyprus many times on historical projects when it gets painted. For stain grade use the good stuff, genuine mahogany. Do not use any of the South African mahogany no matter what anyone says, it will fail badly.

Good luck



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