Taking on the best DIY project ever—a new deck. Here’s what you need to know to get started.
By Mark Clement
I mean, it shouldn’t be your first DIY project but if you’ve got some basic carpentry skills, some patience and a strong back, building a basic deck is possible.
The things that throw us—all people, including me, an actual contractor and carpenter—are what we’re not ready for. The surprises life sticks in our way. The stuff we didn’t know we didn’t know until we’re in the thick of it and we have to get out of the thick of it to make progress.
I’m not saying this article will smooth out all the bumps in the road. Building a deck is still a significant undertaking. However, I hope it helps smooth some of them out for you. I’ll link to what I think are some videos (starring me, who else?) that I hope you find helpful.
OK, here goes.
A deck requires a permit. There’s no way around it. Even if you think you don’t need one, you do. The good news is most building departments I’ve worked with are extremely helpful in guiding you through the process.
To help you prepare your documents—they can be hand drawn—use a free guide called the DCA-6 from the American Wood Council. It is extra awesome. You can even copy some its drawings for details the inspector requires.
There is a common misconception that the same fastener—a 1 ½-inch rated screw or nail—is used on all the nail holes in the metal hardware. In reality, the short nails should be used into the ledger board of the deck, while a longer fastener—2 ½-inches—is for the angled fastener holes. I use screws, which I show more of in this video here.
Speaking of screws, I’m a screw snob and for my money, there’s little better than Spax #10 x 3, #10 x 2 ½, and #10 x1 1/2-inch HCRx coated deck screws. The coating is great. The drive is spectacular. They bite hard into the wood and I can use them for the hardware. Also, I prefer screws over nails for deck building because while nails might be faster (from a nail gun), screws come out more easily when you make a mistake.
The reason for the permit isn’t really to be all goody-two-shoes about it. It’s more important than that. As part of the permitting process you’ll get inspections—usually two: Footings and final. And the reason you want these is because the deck isn’t just for you. It’s for every person who ever walks on it ever again. It should be safe. For them.
Codes vary from place to place (even though most towns probably follow the DCA-6) and so does techniques. However, water and gravity don’t really care. And while YouTube and others can be a good resource to learn techniques and tricks, not all videos and DIY hacks are 100% proper, so please proceed with caution.
One thing lots of DIYers don’t know they don’t know is how to dig a hole. As famous guy Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about riding a mule in the cold wind, digging a hole is “no high industry” but it needs to be done well. I view a shovel as more of a “dirt chisel” than a blunt instrument. And its intended purpose is to plunge straight into the earth and scoop out a hunk of dirt in the pursuit of a shaft into the ground. You want a hole not a bowl. Also, you’ll need a blunt instrument called a digging bar to sink these holes as well.
There are, of course, a zillion other things to know. But if you’re regularly doing DIY and have the tools already you’re in a good place to start. Whether you’re a seasoned DIYer or a newbie, we’re here to help. Let us know.
(Images via Wood. It’s Real., Shutterstock)