(802) 839-6099 • 279 Websterville Road, Barre VT 05641 • jay@southgatesteeplejacks.com
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New Woodwork/Paint

We have an extensive background in architectural woodworking and a fully equipped woodshop, so we are able to re-produce any and all details.
Most New England steeples are finished in pine, and we use pine often. However, we like to use rot proof woods such as cedar and cypress in the most exposed locations, or everywhere if budgets permit. In general, we follow industry standard practice, with the following exceptions and/or additions. These steps add many decades to the life of the work.

1) All exposed surfaces are rough sanded to approx 60 grit. This improves primer adhesion, which is often the main point of paint failure on new work because while man has made paint to stick to wood, but God did not make tress to hold paint. All sharp corners are sanded off. This eliminates the common problem of inadequate paint thickness at outside corners.
2) All wood is back primed and end primed before installation. This helps to prevent warping during sudden changes in humidity. It will also make a difference decades in the future if maintenance is deferred. In such cases, as paint and caulk finally fail, wind driven rain will penetrate miters and butt joints, soaking into the end grain, thereby starting the rotting process. If the end grain has been generously primed, these occasional penetrations will cause no harm.
3) All points at which any vertical wall surface terminates on a flat roof, will be crafted as shown in the accompanying diagram. Holding the wood up off the roof as far as possible is critical. If you look around, you will notice that the worst paint failure on steeples is often found just above a flat roof. This is because as rain and snow pile up on the flat roof, the wood absorbs water through the end grain, and this forces off the paint.
4) Many details such as capital tops or band moldings present a horizontal surface to the weather. We go to great lengths to flash such places whenever practical. At a minimum, we will put a 15 degree slope on the top of all horizontal surfaces. With exposed band moldings, we put a slope on the top, back prime, hold the molding just off the surface, and caulk the top, but not the bottom edge. Put simply, to merely nail up the molding and paint it in is easy and looks great, but we take pains that will yield results decades down the road.
5) Our most unusual technique is as follows; We believe in expansion joints. People often judge the quality of woodwork craftsmanship by tightness of joints. However, in many cases, tight joints will lead to early paint failure.

A pine board that is 10” wide and 12’ long will grow and shrink up to 3/16” of an inch across its width and 1/8” along its length as humidity and temperature change. If one crafts a snug joint and the wood later expands, nails will pop and the wood will buckle. If one crafts a snug joint and the wood shrinks, the paint film will snap at the joints, and this will allow water to penetrate. If, however, one crafts the joints so that there is an expansion joint of approximately 1/8”-3/16” between adjoining members, normal dimensional fluctuations will be absorbed by the caulk and the paint film will remain unbroken. This concept is often perceived by others as a “cop-out” by workers insufficiently skilled to achieve tight joints.

6) Finally, when the use of a match board flush horizontal siding is called for, we do NOT use off the shelf products because these have a small flat spot where they meet, and also do not have the expansion joint we like to use. So, we have made our own knives for the pattern we developed, as shown in the accompanying sketch.

We arrived at the above techniques after having carefully observed the locations in which rot and paint failure have been found on the historic steeples we have inspected. We put our efforts and time into the details that make for long life. Tight joints look great up close, but they can lead to paint failure and rot.
For Primer we use Sherwin-Williams Alkyd Primer, and for top coat we use 2 coats Duration. We may or may or may not use a sprayer, but we ALWAYS brush the paint in.