Midnight Woodworking


Appalachia Mission 2017

I just got back yesterday, from our annual mission trip to Preston County West Virginia. We took about 20 teenagers to work on four separate houses. My team’s job site was the home of the Barkers. They had two ramps leading into their house that needed replacing. the one in back was narrow and becoming unsafe, and the one in front was at a very steep angle, due to the fact that the porch was about 8 feet away from the driveway. My team this year consisted of two other adults Rob and Lisa, and five fantastic young ladies.

My plan for resolving the steep ramp issue was to come off the other side of the front porch, Run an 8′ long ramp down to a landing, then switch back and run a 20′ ramp back towards the driveway. After getting the Barker’s approval, I laid out stakes in the ground, and the girls started digging.

They dug nine post holes out front, on the first day. I think everyone had blisters by lunch time.

After lunch, we poured concrete in the holes and Rob and Lisa helped hold the posts straight while the girls backfilled around the posts. We used dry Quickcrete for the footings, the ground water will soak into it over time and harden the concrete. Normally it would be better to mix the concrete with water and let it dry first, but we only had five days to complete our task.

After the posts were in, we attached band boards for the landing and Rob and the girls put in the joists and hangers with a palm nailer. Day one complete and the girls were really proud of themselves.

Day two started by chiseling out some notches in the last post that will be bolted to the existing deck.

We gave the girls a lesson on how to use the circular saw and they started cutting all of the stringers for the ramps.

Three of the stringers were going to end in the ground so Jordan started digging them some trenches.

Once some of the stringers were up, I had some of the girls start cutting decking and Lisa helped the other half of the crew start screwing it down.

We got a visit from a nice young man that lived two houses down, so we put him to work. He was 9 years old and he asked us to call him “X”.

X stayed for lunch, then spent the rest of the day helping hold boards when they were being cut and  moving lumber. He was a great little helper.

Jordan got our trenches dug and we added the lower stringers and the girls knocked out the rest of the decking.

By the end of the second day, we had the decking on, the posts cut down, and the top, outside rail installed so the Barkers could test it out. Day two was very productive.

Day 3 started with us finishing the rest of the rails on the front ramp.

Jordan was screwing down the inside rail while a couple of her coworkers were load testing the finished outer rail by dancing on them…

Front ramp complete before lunch so a couple of the girls took a break to explore the playground next store.

Around back, the Barker’s son had come over the day before, with his family and removed the back ramp. This saved us a lot of trouble and allowed us to get started digging the post holes for ramp number two.

I think all the girls had blisters from the holes out front, but not one of them complained when I asked them to start digging four more holes in that rocky West Virginia dirt.

While some were digging, we got to work attaching posts to the existing deck, so we could add a railing around it.

To make it easier to set the post at the correct height, I showed them how to measure, mark, and screw on a temporary stop block.

Then, all that was needed was to plumb up the post and bolt it on.

Rachel took on the task of crawling underneath and attaching all of the washers and nuts.

Day four, we ran stringers and started cutting all of the decking.

Half the crew was laying down decking while the rest of us moved ahead of them installing blocking.

The original plan was to make the ramp 48″ wide, but due to the lack of space, we wound up at 42″ instead. That meant all of our pre-cut decking was too long.

I had the girls help snap a chalk line and Rachel cut away all of the excess.

Rob wanted to try his hand at cutting the posts down to the correct height so I got this great action shot…


We got the decking down so I got the girls cutting railings and we started installing them around the existing deck.


I put Rob in charge of helping the girls install the ramp rails and he did a great job.

Half of the rail was up by the end of day four. It was a good stopping point so we went back to the camp to relax a bit. Only half a day’s work left for tomorrow.

Day 5 started with pouring rain so we got a late start. We picked up a new member of the crew today as well. Dan, the father of one of my crew, came up to help. He drove 10 hours up from Tennessee and only had a few hours of sleep,  but he jumped right in and helped Rachel spread stone at the bottom of our front ramp so Mrs. Barker wouldn’t have to step in any mud.

It was still drizzling, but the girls were real good sports and kept working so we could get done before the sky really opened up.

While Rob finished the back rail, I worked with Lisa and Ruth blocking off the old ramp so no one would fall off that side when the old ramp was removed.


Rob and the girls finished the rails in the back.

Next, they started taking out the bolts that held the old ramp to the deck.

Dan also brought his dog Gideon along for the day, but he refused to do any work.

Rob had the girls completely remove the old ramp while I worked with Lisa to block off a gap by the new ramp.

Here is a shop of the back ramp and rails completed.


I showed Theresa and Elizabeth how to use my router and had them add a nice radius to the hand rails in the back.

Rachel and Ruth followed them with the sander and tried to remove any sharp edges and give the rail a finished look.

Dan wanted a chance to use the router, so I let him help on the rail out front.

The Barkers have a really nice view out the front of their house.

Fortunately we just finished the rails as the skies opened up again. Unfortunately we did not get a chance to take pictures of all the girls and the Barkers standing on the completed ramp. It rained rather heavily for a while, so we said packed up our soggy stuff and headed back to camp.

We did manage to get a good group shot the next morning, as we packed up the camp site and prepped to head home to Maryland.

Our other three crews also finished their projects successfully and everyone was tired but very proud of a job well done.

2 comments on “Appalachia Mission 2017

  1. Mike Ehret
    July 16, 2017

    Lawrence- It looks like a great and productive trip to Preston County. Your team did an awesome job. Great to see the smiles and some young adults getting a chance to learn new skills for such a wonderful cause.

  2. optimaltool
    July 30, 2017

    Great write up for woodworking fans and DIYs. I probably have only half the list but my tool set grows everyday thanks

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This entry was posted on July 16, 2017 by in Church projects and tagged , , , .

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