Unless you studied drafting in school, the prospect of drawing up a plan for your small deck may seem daunting. Let me say emphatically that it shouldn't, though -- not in the least! All you need is a simple guide that will help you plan your project. Such deck plans are very doable for the do-it-yourselfer.
With pencil, paper and ruler ready, just draw lines to represent, two-dimensionally, where the frame and deck joists will be going. There's no need to include the decking boards in your drawing, as the idea of the plan is to guide you through the process of laying out the underlying structure. Your small deck plan will also help you determine how much lumber will be needed (and what lengths you need), so other than checking on local building codes, drawing a plan for your small deck should be the very first thing you do.
Indicate dimensions on your plan as you draw in the lines. Using the numbers from my sample project, you'd indicate a width of 96 inches in your plan, and a length of 117 inches (we decided to make the small deck not quite 10 feet in length). Joists will be 16 inches on center; we doubled up on the joists at the two ends ("double headers"), so that means you'll draw in 10 joists in all.
Why bother drawing such a simple plan? Well, if you don't work with lumber that much, it's very easy to overlook something that a carpenter takes for granted. For example, although the width of this small deck will be 96 inches, you will not be cutting your joists to a length of 96 inches. Why? Because 3 of those inches are accounted for by the 117-inch 2x4s that form two sides of the frame. Remember, a 2x4 isn't truly 2 inches thick, it's really 1.5 inches thick -- which, multiplied by 2 (one on each end), comes to 3 inches. The double headers at the two ends will be the same length as the other joists (that is, they run inside the 117-inch 2x4s.
That's the beauty of drawing a plan for your small deck: you can indicate all of this "tricky stuff" in black and white and keep the visual representation right in front of you, rather than relying on instinct or on memory.
So in all, you'll be cutting ten 2x4s to a length of 93 inches, and two to a length of 117 inches. Together, these twelve 2x4s compose the frame and joists for the small deck and form the underpinnings upon which you'll be attaching the decking boards.
Begin the process of assembling the frame by forming a right angle (check with a carpenter's square) between a 117-inch 2x4 and a 93-inch 2x4, then fastening them together with 2 screws using your drill (picture). Pre-drill to avoid splitting. Repeat the process at the other three corners, until your rectangle is complete.
In Step 4 we'll continue the process of assembling the frame and joists....