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The Essential Steps in Building Decks

An Introduction to Do-It-Yourself Construction

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Building decks (picture) isn't easy for beginners, but my tips should help.

Expand your outdoor living horizons with decks.

Darrel Willman

So you've become interested in building decks, but you're not clear on all the steps involved in doing the job right? You've seen hundreds of examples in other people's backyards, and you like the idea of gaining an attractive outdoor living space. Problem is, you don't know where to begin, you say? Your do-it-yourself construction skills are basic at best, and the prospect of doing design and construction from scratch is rather daunting?

Well, you've come to the right place. This article is meant to serve as a springboard for those interested in building decks who seek information geared for the beginner. It is beyond the scope of this article to provide an exhaustive treatise on all aspects of such construction. But the article should provide novices with enough information to get them started. I'll focus on the essential steps in building decks, with emphasis on the initial steps that get the project off on a sound footing. Space does not permit treatment of the finishing touches, such as railings and deck sealers. My goal is simply to furnish you with a solid foundation – both literally and figuratively.

Once beginners get started on a project as complex as this one, one of their most obvious needs will be to ask questions. An opportunity to do so will arise when they shop for lumber and other supplies for the project at a hardware store. The hardware store can be a great source of free information. But to ask intelligent questions, you need some knowledge of the subject already, including knowledge of the terminology used to discuss the various aspects of it. You also need an introduction to some basic problem solving in deck construction. For instance, on Page 3 we discuss the freestanding or "floating deck" as an alternative to the type that gets secured directly to a house. Why? Because although you can still place a freestanding deck adjacent to a house, a freestanding deck obviates a problem for the non-carpenter: namely, it avoids having to remove siding from your house (a scary thought for most of us).

You need to be made aware of such challenges that await you in your initial foray into deck construction. Once you become aware of the problems – and mull over some suggestions as to how to solve them – you'll be brimming with astute questions when you walk into the hardware store. Speaking of the hardware store, some of the supplies you'll need to build a deck are likely to include the following:

  • Flashing
  • Caulking compound
  • Pre-mixed concrete
  • Gravel or crushed stone
  • Cinder blocks
  • Post caps
  • Post bases
  • Seismic ties
  • Joist hangers
  • Cardboard tube concrete forms
  • Rebar
  • HDG bolts or lag screws, and washers
  • Joist hanger nails
  • If you must use nails, use stainless steel or HDG nails (either ring-shank nails or spiral-groove, for better holding power). But it is preferable to use deck screws.

The following are some of the tools you may need for this project:

  • Shovel
  • Carpenter’s level
  • Carpenter’s square
  • Plumb bob
  • Wheelbarrow (for mixing concrete)
  • Caulking gun
  • Drill
  • Wrench (to tighten lag screws)
  • Hammer
  • Circular saw
  • Tape measure
  • Safety eyeware
  • Scrap lumber for bracing

On Page 2 we'll have a look at another supply you need for building decks – the wood….

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