10 Tips for Building a Wood Deck

If you are attempting to build your first deck you have come to the right place. Building a deck is hard work, but it is possible to do it with minimal carpentry skills. Before we began building our deck, I searched the internet for tips to be sure we were doing things right. I had a hard time finding articles that weren’t “how to” but that had tips for us to make the process go smoothly. So I decided, that since I have now built my own deck, I would share tips with you that we thought would have been useful to know ahead of time.

Building a Deck Tip #1: Buy pressure treated lumber.

First and foremost you MUST purchase pressure treated lumber. Do not try to buy regular 2×4’s as you will end up with a deck that will rot in less than 5 years. If you do not think you’d like to buy pressure treated wood you can try to invest in a higher quality wood like cedar to build your deck. Pressure treated lumber in most cases, is not longer made with arsenic so it is safe and durable. While it is cheaper to buy non pressure treated wood, it will not be cheaper for you in the long run because you will need to replace some or all of your deck.

Building a Deck Tip #2: Get the right type of fasteners.

Some building codes require stainless steel or a specific type of galvanized screw if you are using pressure treated wood. Certain types of metals can corrode the wood and cause joints to weaken. We started by putting in galvanized stainless screw lag bolts. When the inspector came out to see the deck though, he had us change them to stainless steel. Talk about a waste of time and money! Definitely educate yourself about which type to use before you buy and build the deck.

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Building a Deck Tip #3: MEASURE!

First, measure the lumber at the store before you bring it home. We learned this the hard way as well. We bought ten foot long 2 x 6 boards to use for the deck joists and frame. Since they were advertised as ten feet long, we never bothered to measure them. What a huge mistake. Each of the boards was actually 10 feet 1 inch long. After we had the entire frame built, the deck boards fell right through. We had to take the entire thing apart just to cut 2 ten foot board off one inch with a skill saw.

Building a Deck Tip #4: Use only what you need.

When building a deck, you’ll find that you typically buy a little extra to make sure you have enough. As you work, only use what you need. Keep unused pieces of lumber or spindles away from your table saw so that you do not inadvertently grab one. By cutting the spindles for our deck as we used them, we were able to return $25 worth of them at the end.

Building a Deck Tip #5: Keep it simple.

When building a deck you’ll want to be sure to keep it simple by designing something that is within your skill level. If you are unsure about your deck building abilities, you should opt for a simple platform with a simple set of stairs. We had some ideas of building a grand set of stairs that met in the middle and required cuts of 45 degree angles. It resulted in frustration and actually disassembling 3 hours worth of work. We ended up going the simple route in the end, but had wasted about $20 worth of lumber in the process.

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Building a Deck Tip #6: Get help!

Building a deck requires a lot of fastening and screwing. This is where you should invite help screwing in deck boards and spindles. Ask friends or family to donate their time and treat them to lunch or dinner, it will be worth it to you to have them there. Think about this, each deck board has to be screwed into each joist twice in at least 8 places on a basic 10 x 12 deck. Multiply that by 26 deck boards and you get the point! This leads me to tip #7.

Building a Deck Tip #7: Have several drills on hand.

Not only do you need lots of help but you will need lots of drills as well. If everyone has their own drill (with appropriate bits) the job will go much faster. When building your deck you may find that the wood is a bit soft if it hasn’t been kiln dried. We found that it was easier on the wood to use cordless drills vs. electric. Electric drills are very powerful and may split the wood.

Building a Deck Tip #8: Check with local codes.

Do you need a building permit to build a deck in your area? Most cities do require this. You should contact your local city inspection office to find out what you need to do. It will be very costly for you if you do not follow local codes. Local codes can be very specific about what size posts you use, as well as what types of fasteners. Be sure to educate yourself on this so you do not need to re-do work you have already done.

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Building a Deck Tip #9: Remember, bark side up.

When installing your deck boards try to remember the phrase bark side up. For each board you should orient it so that the end grain growth rings curve upward. This will prevent cupping and checking and will also allow water to drain off of the deck board, rather than pool in the middle of it.

Building a Deck Tip #10:Protect the deck.

Now that you have done all this work and spent all this time building a deck you should protect it. This is the number one key thing that will help prevent wood rot. There are several ways to protect it but I would recommend finishing your deck with a Water Repellant Preservative (WRP). You can buy these WRPs tinted or clear. You can find a lot of information on the web about this, as well as information in your local home improvement store. Try visiting http://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/documnts/fplgtr/fplgtr109.pdf to find out what the US Department of Agriculture/Forestry thinks about it. But most importantly, do not paint your deck with a solid color finish. This will only peel and crack which will cause headaches for maintenance.

These tips should help you avoid a few headaches when building a deck. It is important to educate yourself about building a deck before you do it so that you have a solid and beautiful deck for years to come.

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