Wooden Balau Deck Built in The Bluff – February 2012

Wooden sundecks Durban

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The Bluff is a wonderful place for a wooden deck builder in Durban. A lot of the properties there have relatively steep gardens and lend themselves well to installing wooden decks. It allows the property owner to make use of land which would have otherwise not been usable.
This property was very steep with a steep flight of concrete stairs to get from road level to the house. There was a second steep flight of stairs from the house to some outbuildings which contained a pub, pool and a small granny flat. The idea was to deck from the pub area over a small retaining wall towards the pool and around the corner of the pub to the braai area. All in all we were looking at about 35m² of decking. The client didn’t want a full height balustrade of 1m, but instead opted for a 500mm high simple balustrade as can be seen from the pics alongside. He didn’t want to obstruct the view when in a seated position.  There was also to be a flight of stairs to gain access from the pool area which was built over some existing concrete stairs.

The actual construction of the deck was relatively simple in that we were attaching joists or batons to the existing concrete floor directly outside the pub area and deck boards on top of that. We needed to place an under beam on the edge by the pool side as that was about 1.5m above ground level. This wooden deck was built completely out of balau so cost a little more than one with a CCA Pine substructure.

Wooden decks Durban

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As I’ve mentioned in other articles we now build our substructures primarily out of H3 CCA pine with balau deck boards on top. The guarantee that comes with the H3 CCA Pine provides a good basis for an argument that it will outlast the balau as a substructure.

This wooden deck was left unsealed and allowed to go grey in colour from the sun’s UV. Balau won’t necessarily rot any quicker if left unsealed. It is so hard and dense that water does not easily get absorbed by it. The cause of rot is water that allows fungi and algae to grow. The algae causes the fibres in the wood to break down which is rot. Because the water cannot penetrate the balau that easily rot is reduced to a minimum.  Also balau contains many natural oils and resins which prevent water getting in. It also contains toxins which prevent insects from eating it. So overall it is a very suitable timber to use in wooden decks. Pine on the other hand, if left untreated, will rot very quickly, hence the need to CCA treat it to prevent rot and to prevent insect infestation.

When left unsealed balau will turn a grey colour. The grey is actually black algae but it is contained to the surface of the wood so doesn’t necessarily affect the integrity of the timber. It can however become slippery when wet. It is advisable to therefore pressure clean the deck from time to time to remove this black algae. After many years, leaving it unsealed can also produce small fissures in the wood which can collect water. One important thing to remember is that if you do plan to seal your balau deck after it has greyed, then it is imperative to remove this black algae before sealing it otherwise the final product will be very dark. This can be done by bleaching it using Timbrite or other suitable bleach designed for the purpose of reviving old greyed wood. One can also use a pressure cleaner or sand it off. But sanding is not always that practical on decks once they are constructed as there are many areas where the sander can’t reach.

For a free no obligation quote or just some advice please call us on 082 496 5444 or use the form below to send me an e-mail.

 

Deck Refurbishments

Deck refurbishment

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I have done quite a few deck refurbishment jobs and as mentioned in a previous article it is work I would rather stay away from. However, especially in the early days, it was necessary to do these jobs to keep paying the bills. Also it has provided me with a solid understanding of what not to do when finishing or sealing a deck. Also it has allowed me to see other construction methods of other deck builders first hand. Because these decks are relatively old one can see how a certain technique has behaved over time. But sometimes it is better to leave them alone, as I have done recently, because it can be like opening a can of worms.

The first thing to consider when sealing a new deck is to assume that you will be the one who has to refurbish it when it comes to refurbishing. This way you will probably apply the best finish to it so that future maintenance jobs are easy. The article on deck finishes covers in more detail what types of finishes are available and their pros and cons. When refurbishing one needs to first establish if there is structural timber that needs to be replaced. Sometimes it can be difficult to see if this is needed until deckboards are lifted. We did a job in La Lucia where we simply replaced deckboards and once we took the deckboards off we noticed that some of the joists had been eaten by insects and rotted. Although it is unusual for balau to be attacked by insects it can happen in the sap wood or if the tree was felled while it was still young. As a client and a contractor it is best to know exactly what state all the timber is in before the quote is accepted because no-one wants to find that once they lift the first deckboard the joists are so bad that new deckboards cannot be re-attached to them. So get underneath the deck, take a screw driver and poke around and see is there is rot or degradation.

Deck refurbishment

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Rotten deckboards themselves are quite easy to pick up as they will normally be visible from the top and they will normally start on one end where the water has been absorbed by the end grain. As mentioned in other articles, water is absorbed by wood through the end grain largely and very little is absorbed through face or side grain. As such the wood will rot from the ends first. If a rotten deckboard is found rather replace the entire length of that deckboard as chances are it will have started rotting all the way along. Be careful to know what deckboards have been used. A 19 x 68 deckboards is so close to a 21 x 72 that with the naked eye one might miss it. But looking at it carefully you will see it is both thicker and wider (and more expensive). Measure it to make sure.

Balustrades can sometimes rot too but normally only where water tends to collect. Screw holes left open and not filled with epoxy are also areas where the boards can rot more quickly. Some decks are not worth trying to repair. I’ve seen decks with posts that have rotted off and beams and joists that have rotted. It is not worth trying to patch that as eventually the whole deck will need to be replaced. The cost of this will exceed building a new deck. Pine decks tend to rot more easily especially if they have been built using H2 CCA Treated pine. A separate article will run through the different type of CCA pine and which ones are suitable for which application.

Use the search bar on the top right to search for other related articles or see below.  For a free no obligation quote on refurbishing your deck please call us on 082 496 5444 or use the form below.

Stairs and Balustrade – Durban North – July 2011

Wooden stairs

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This wooden stair job started off as just a few stairs to gain access to the granny flat from the other side of the garden and then progressed into a small balustrade on either side too. The client originally had a fence there of CCA pine slats which we had to remove and then build our stairs. She wanted to then put some sort of fence on either side to keep dogs out and originally we were going to re-use some of the CCA pine slats. After speaking to her we agreed that a balau balustrade at the same height as the stairs would finish it off more neatly and add more value to her property.

The stairs were fairly simple and we used two stringers on each side of 30 x 228 balau. We then attached cleats at the required height for each tread. For the cleats we used 30 x 40 balau and for the treads we used 30 x 140 and doubled them up to get a tread of 285 wide with a 5mm gap in between each board. This type of stairs can only really be about 1m wide before you need to increase the thickness of your timber to 40mm. If the timber is too thin and the steps are too wide then the tread will bend each time someone walks on it. If you want to make your stairs wider than 1m then you must use a 40mm thick piece of balau. If you are using pine then this thickness needs to be increased even more because pine is so much softer than balau.

I prefer to use a different system when building wide stairs. One can add an extra stringer in the middle to give it support. However the stringers on the end have the cleats attached to the inside of them. The stringer in the middle cannot have the cleat attached to the inside as the stringer itself will protrude above the level of the tread. So you will need to cut recesses out of the middle stringer so that the tread can sit on a flat surface.

Wooden stairs

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The other alternative to this is to build a structure underneath each tread on which deck boards are attached. This method is common in building stairs with closed risers. The above method and the one we used on this build is common for stairs with open risers.

We had a challenge on this job in that the wall that we were going to attach to wasn’t straight and looked as if it had been moving over the years. So instead of attaching to the wall we sunk some posts in the ground and concreted them in. This way the wall can continue to move without pushing or pulling our stairs over.

We filled our holes with epoxy and saw dust mixture to get a colour match and sealed it this time using Timberlife Ultra Care Gold. The Ultra Care Gold has a higher wax content and is suitable for vertical pieces of timber where the sun’s rays are not as direct as the horizontal pieces.

I went back to this client’s house to repair a broken fence and our stairs and balustrade are still as good as they were when we built them. They need to be re-sealed again but otherwise the balau has held up well.

For a free no obligation quote on your outdoor timber construction please call us on 082 496 5444 or use the form below to submit your enquiry.  If it’s just advice you are after, leave a comment in the comments section and I will try to assist you.

 

Wooden Deck Built in Toti at a Guest House

Wooden deck builder Durban

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This was one of my first wooden decks in Durban that I undertook. The Guest House we built it for had just opened up the side of the dining room on the first floor with sliding doors and now wanted to extend the area by adding a deck of about 14m². It is always important to first break through the wall and install the sliding doors and then build the wooden deck. This way the deck builder can get the surface of the deck flush with the entrance to the room. I have built one deck before where the client insisted that I build the deck first and then they were going to break through. Although we did our best to measure where the inside floor was, there may still have been a small step up or down once they had broken through. On this build though it was done the right way around and the deck was flush with the floor inside the dining room.

The deck was a normal cleat, beam and joist system where we secured a cleat to the wall with sleeve anchors, installed vertical posts and attached a beam to that and then ran joists between the cleat and beam with a small canter lever. We had to try to set our posts as far out as possible so as to create enough space under the deck that could be used.

Wooden deck builder Durban

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The balustrade was a normal picket style one. These are the safest and really the only one that is completely compliant with building regulations. Building regulations state that there should be no opening that is larger than 100mm. With all other balustrades there are some spaces that become greater than 100mm. Besides being non-compliant they are not that safe especially for small children. With the pickets running in a vertical direction it is more difficult for children, or adults, to climb up on the balustrade and fall over. The other designs offer more horizontal pieces that people can use to climb up on.

The stairs we built here joined the deck to the pool area which was about half a floor up from ground level. There were separate concrete stairs running from ground level to the pool area but the new wooden stairs we built could now be used to access the pool area, and the rest of the outside area, from the dining room. Because there was no way of supporting the stringer mid-way we had to ensure that we had the correct width of stringer so that it would not break over time. Most of the strength in a piece of wood is in the width and not the thickness as the downward force is exerted on the width.

Wooden deck builder Durban

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We finished up by filling our holes with epoxy and sawdust and sealing with a Timberlife Satin Wood Base 28 Mahogany tint. In our decks we counter sink the screws which leave a small screw hole that water can get into. It is important to fill these so that no water can get in. If water does get in it can travel down the end grain and will cause the wood to rot much quicker at the point of the screw hole. Water travels through wood along the end grain rather than being absorbed from the face or side grain. Wood filler is also not suitable as it will pop over time due to the weather. Clear epoxy works well mixed with a little saw dust to match the colour. Once it’s dry, use a grinder with a sanding pad to flat it and then sand the grind marks off before finishing.

For a free no obligation quote on your deck or for some advice, please contact us on 082 496 5444 or complete the form below.

Wooden Balustrade Built in Everton – May 2013

Wooden balustrade

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This wooden balustrade we built in Everton Kloof, Durban was for an established client of ours that we have done various amounts of work for in the past. She had had some stairs built in brick and concrete down the bank to access the lower level of her property. We had to wait a few weeks in order for the concrete to cure properly before we drilled into the side of it. It is always a pleasure installing a wooden balustrade onto a concrete substrate as opposed to a brick or block substrate. With concrete your holes can be drilled easily and the sleeve anchors used to secure the posts to the side of the stairs take nicely and bind properly. When drilling into bricks, or even worse blocks, the cavity that exists in the brick or block almost always creates a problem in that the sleeve anchor has nothing to set itself against and ends up turning on itself and not binding properly. It is most frustrating and sometimes results in drilling new holes to find a solid substrate or even going the chemical anchor route. If one is drilling into blocks with large cavities, it is sometimes better to go the chemical anchor route from the beginning.

Wooden balustrade

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Chemical anchors come with sleeves that are inserted into the holes first and then the two-part chemical is squeezed into that and then a thread bar is inserted. The chemicals dry very quickly, in a few minutes or less, and the thread bar is then fixed securely in the wall. A post can now be pre drilled and inserted over the thread bar and washers and nuts fastened onto that. It is a much stronger bond than sleeve anchors, albeit more expensive. Currently chemical anchors can cost about R300-00 per tube, the size of a tube of silicone, and the sleeves are about R15-00 each.

This wooden balustrade needed to have a bend in it that can be seen from the pictures alongside as the top tread was deeper than the rest of the treads. There was a small landing at the top where the balustrade needed to be level with ground. This was the normal vertical picket style balustrade and we sealed it using our favourite Timberlife Satin Wood Base 28 in a mahogany tint. Using this product will result in lower maintenance costs going forward as no sanding will be required when re-sealing. You simply clean and re-seal.

Wooden balustrade

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Balustrades are not the easiest thing to install. One needs to be very careful that both rails are parallel to each other and that they are parallel to the tips of the risers. Of course the tips of each riser will not necessarily be in a straight line. What we do is run a straight edge or fish line across all the risers to get an average line that we work from. The lower rail is then set parallel to this line and the top rail and hence the capping is set to this, again parallel. One also needs to be careful when taking corners. Often the distance between the capping and the steps can vary, especially if there is a landing involved. Where a balustrade arrives at a landing one needs to step the balustrade so that the capping will remain at the 1m mark above ground.

For a free no obligation quote on your wooden balustrades or other timber construction, please complete the form below and I will contact you or you can contact us on 082 496 5444.

 

Balau Screening in Cotswold Downs – June 2013

Balau or timber screening

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We were called upon to quote on some balau screening in the Hillcrest, Durban area at a new development called Cotswold Downs.

There were various aircons, heat pumps and gas bottles that needed to be clad or screened so as to conceal them.

We used balau 30 x 40 struts or cleats attached to the walls. In some instances we used hiltis as there was not much load on the cleat.   In other instances we used 10mm x 100mm sleeve anchors.  We built a frame using the 30 x 40 balau and then clad it using a standard deck board of 19 x 68 with a 19mm space between. The 19mm space is standard in screening or cladding as it provides enough coverage without being too tight in its appearance. A gap of 5mm, which is standard in building a deck, would be far too close and would give it an odd appearance.

Most of the structures we built here were simple enough with either two or three sides and a removable lid so that access could be gained to change gas bottles or service aircons. Some of them had to have fronts

Balau or timber screening

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that were removable as well as tops so that access could be gained from above or from the front. Some were removable lids and fronts and some were hinged. One needs to be careful which hinges you chose as they need to be strong enough and weather resistant. Solid brass hinges are expensive and with the weight of the balau can be problematic. Solid stainless hinges with bearings are best if the weight of the door is quite large. On the smaller door we used aluminium hinges as the door wasn’t too heavy and the aluminium will stand up the weather.

There were two doors we made which measured 2.5m high and 750mm wide each. That size door in balau is quite heavy and we used three galvanised strap hinges on either side. The only problem with strap hinges is that they need to be placed on the side of the door that opens, so they were visible on the outside. Some may say it adds character to the door, but sometimes you don’t want to see them. Being galvanised steel they are difficult to paint but can be painted with a Hammerite product specially designed for galvanised steel.  The only other alternative to these were to use the galvanised strap hinges that have a bent arm and slot into another piece attached to the frame. However these would have resulted in a large gap between the frame and the door or gate. Normal butt hinges wouldn’t have been strong enough to hold the door due to the sheer weight of them in balau.

Balau or timber screening

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When building this type of structure it is often easier to try to build the whole thing in situ. So a frame goes up first, then you set the braces at the back to the correct length and then start adding deckboards, leaving one side long which can be cut afterwards.  If it is quite large then the door needs to be built on the ground, leaving the ends long and hung, then cut in situ.

They are unlike a normal door in that they can’t be successfully planned to fit the frame because the end grain is on the side.

We finished them off by filling holes with epoxy, sanding flat and sealing with Timberlife Satin Wood Base 28 in a mahogany tint.

For a free no obligation quote or advice on your decking or screening requirements please complete the form below and I will contact you, or you can call us on 082 496 5444.

Wooden Stairs Built in Cowies Hill, Durban

Wooden stairs Durban

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These wooden stairs we built in were quite interesting because the client had a dining room which was raised about 600 from the patio outside. He wanted to be able to access the dining room through the new sliding doors. So we designed a small landing and some stairs to fit snugly in on one side so as to not take up too much space on the patio yet still allow a safe passage down the stairs. There were only a total of two treads plus the landing. It not only added value by creating an access point but also added charm with wood.

We built the entire landing on the ground from balau, screwed it all together and then lifted it into place and attached it to two walls of the house using sleeve anchors. This method also kept the whole landing in the same plane i.e. no cleat and joist system but rather a joist and fascia beam system. Each method has their own applications. If it is a fairly large deck where it would be impossible to attach each joist to the beam and then lift it into place, then one would need to use a cleat, beam and joist system. However where it is possible to attach each joist to the beam or fascia beam then it can be semi pre assembled and lifted into place. This can also successfully be done with a deck that is quite close to ground as the ends of the joists can be supported quite easily while the other ends are attached to the fascia beam which is then attached to the wall. However a deck that is raised off the ground would pose problems in trying to support each joist individually while attaching them and then lifting the entire structure up. The fascia beam system also allows one to keep the structure in the same plane and if space beneath the deck is limited then this is a better option.

Wooden stairs Durban

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We clad or screened the underside of this landing to create a storage area with a hinged door on one side so that it could be closed and locked.

This one we finished with Timberlife Ultra Care Gold as it was not exposed to direct sunlight. The Timberlife Satin Wood Base 28/28 has a much lower wax content so tends not to blemish that easily in direct sunlight. The Ultra Care Gold however has a much higher wax content and the UV in the sunlight tends to make it go a bit blotchy which can result in you having to sand it all off when it comes to maintenance. The key to low maintenance in wooden decks is to apply the correct finish correctly. To sand an entire deck back to wood and remove all traces of finish is almost impossible and at times I have thought it would be cheaper to simply replace the entire deck.

This was a small day which took us a day to complete. We also added a small gate for him on the existing deck, so in total it was a two-day job with sanding and sealing.

For a free no obligation quote on stairs or other wooden structure please complete the form below and we will contact you or you can call us on 082 496 5444.

Wooden Sundeck Built in Gillitts – April 2013

Timber deck builder Durban

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This was our second deck we built in Durban using CCA pine as a substructure. I can confirm that there is a substantial cost saving using pine as a substructure and provided it is CCA treated to the correct Hazard Level (H level), then it is guaranteed by the supplier and manufacturer against rot and insect infestation for up to 50 years. So at least H3 must be used which is good for outdoors, exposed to the elements and if there are parts of it that are making contact with ground then H4 is better. In fact the cost difference between H3 and H4 is so slight that I am tending to just use H4 throughout as a matter of course to err on the side of caution.

This deck extended from the house outwards about 5m. Half of that 5m length was on existing tiles and concrete so we placed batons of 38 x 76 and the rest of it dropped down about a metre onto soil. We chose 76mm as our width of baton because it brought us up to exactly where we wanted to be in terms of height of the deck in order to clear the bottom of the door. We therefore had very little space between joist and the tiles so there was very little packing to do. When we place batons on the ground as joists, we fix them using a hilti. The hilti is really just to stop the joist moving sideways and not really up or down as once the deck is built the weight of it keeps it from lifting up. However the hilti provides enough fixing power in both directions so sleeve anchors are not necessary. Often the ground on which you are fixing these batons / joists to, is not completely flat and in order to get the surface of the deck level, one needs to shim one end of the baton or joist. This results in one end being higher than the concrete ground level and as such a gap exists between the baton and the ground. Because these batons are relatively thin (between 38mm and 76mm) they are not strong enough in their width to support the deck. They therefore need to be packed with structural grout or a building sand / cement mixture to take up the gap between the baton and the ground.

Timber deck builder Durban

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The rest of the deck was elevated about 1m off the ground so from that point we installed 38 x 114 joists with a main beam running the width of the deck (parallel to the stairs in the picture). We set that back 300mm so that our span between beam and wall was only 1.9m which is the maximum I am happy to go with a 38 x 114 joist.  The rest of the deck was therefore cantilevered by about 300mm.

Deckboards went on without a problem, and we then built the stairs that you can see in the picture. We took a different approach to the stairs that we normally do, or have done in the past. In the past we have secured a beam all the way along the front of each riser. In this case we built treads and risers in line with each joist and then only on the front riser we fixed a fascia beam which was then secured to posts that had been set in concrete in the ground. It was much quicker than, and just as stable as our previous method. The structure that we built can be seen on one of the pics alongside.  The client wanted to leave the sides open as he is planting some indigenous plants alongside to cover the gap thus allowing his access beneath the deck if need be, but once the plants grow they will cover the sides.

Timber deck builder Durban

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This deck was left unsealed as the client wanted the greying effect. I will re-visit it in a few months’ time and if the client is agreeable we can bleach it and high pressure clean it in order to bring it back to its natural colour.

For a free, no obligation quote please complete the form below and I will contact you.  Or you can call us on 082 496 5444.

Wooden Pergola La Lucia – Durban

Wooden Pergola Durban

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Wooden Pergola, Durban

This pergola was built for a client of mine in La Lucia, Durban. They were on of my first clients and have since continued to come back to me for other work ranging from sundecks to doors, bars etc. Their pergola is still in good condition and we have since been back to install corrugated roof sheeting on top to block the rain out but still allow light through. We used a translucent bronze roof sheeting from Safintra.

The pergola was drawn by a draftsman and we quoted based on that. With all due respect to engineers, draftsmen and architects, they do tend to over spec when it comes to using balau. Perhaps it is building regulations that force them to spec it the way they do. Balau is twice as dense as SA Pine, twice as heavy and far stronger. I have seen a deck 3.5m in the air being held up with 60 x 60 posts which had been joined with a half check in the middle. Although I wouldn’t build like that, it bears testimony to the strength of balau and its stability. That deck was at least 15 years old and the posts were still straight and had not bowed under the weight of the deck.

Wooden Pergola Durban

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Nevertheless we built according to the spec and used two 40 x 140 pieces of balau as the posts with a spacer in between. So we had a split post which measured a total of 120 x 140 with a gap in between. These were secured to pre fabricated galvanised steel feet that kept the wood of the ground and were secured to the concrete patio using sleeve anchors.

From there we built a structure up to the desired height and built it around an existing braai chimney. It was secured to the chimney on both sides to give the effect of the joists or rafters moving through the brick work of the chimney. There was an angled front to it and we fixed a fascia beam to that front edge.

The top was clad with thatching laths to give it a rustic look and feel. It kept the sun out and provided the shade they wanted, but the rain obviously still came through.  Bolts were used to secure the posts together through the spacers.

2 years later they asked me to come back and place bronze translucent roof sheeting on the top and clad the sides using the same thatching laths. Now it keeps the sun out and the rain but still retains its rustic look and feel.

Wooden Pergola Durban

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The roof was completed easily enough by attaching some rafters and purlins at the correct spacing and then attaching the roof sheets using self-drilling Tek roofing screws. The front end of the roof sheeting had to be cut as the front edge of the pergola was angled. Cutting plastic roof sheeting can be tricky as it tends to burn and melt with the heat generated from the angle grinder disk. It was therefore better to use a non-abrasive disk like the steel disks normally used to cut concrete or stone. The fiber disk was too abrasive and melted the sheeting wherever it touched it.

Please feel free to give us a call for quotes on wooden pergolas, sun decks and other timber related construction by completing this simple form.  Or you can get us on 082 496 5444.