Learn how to build a deck - DIY step by step guide

Building a deck is a huge job and will challenge your skills as a builder, regardless of your skill level. New builders intent on creating a small scale deck will find the job as challenging as a seasoned veteran building a complicated remote deck. As difficult as the job can—and will—be, it is also highly rewarding. Taking a stack of wood from a pile of materials to a sleek and homey structure is worth the effort.

But before that effort can begin you will need to know how to build a deck. If this is your first time attempting it on your own without any professional assistance, you will need a good deal of preparation before you start burning up your credit card. By the time you’ve finished reading this step-by-step guide to building a deck you will feel confident enough to get the job done.


Before You Begin

Perhaps the most daunting part of constructing a deck is the prep work. Similar to a chef chopping and dicing all anticipated ingredients for the evening, you will have to make sure you have everything you need or might need to get this job done.

First you will need to figure where you want the deck to be placed on the property. Do you want this deck semi-attached to your home like a patio or would you prefer to give your pool area a little elegance? This is an important step in the process because before you get deck plans or buy tools and materials you will need to determine where the deck will go so you know what your options are for style and size.

Once the area has been chosen you will need to clear it and make sure you know if any pipes and drains are located underneath or will be covered by the structure.

Getting Deck Plans

Getting Deck Plans

Now that you know where you will build a deck it is time to see what kind of decks will fit your space and property. If you want to go the super easy route you could simply see what your local home improvement store has to offer. But since you’ve already gone through the trouble of learning how to build a deck you may as well get exactly the structure you want…right?

A great resource for thousands of deck plans is Joe’s website. This is an index of more than 2,400 deck plans and designs, including blue prints for all levels of builders and woodworkers. Joe Jackson is an experienced deck builder who understands the importance of detailed instructions and guidelines for laying a proper deck.

Check out Joe’s homepage and find the design you want to complement your home and yard. Or you can read my straightforward review first, which I wrote just recently about Joe’s products/services. Perhaps you’ll find it useful.


Mark Your Design

Armed with your deck plans, it is now time to clear and mark the area. First you will want to make a real life outline of your deck plan. This means outlining the dimensions of the deck so you know where stairs will be as well as how much wood you will need. Once the design has been marked, you can really do a good job of clearing the ground so you can start with as flat a surface as possible. Get rid of weeds, debris and anything else that can make your structure unstable.


Gather Your Materials

You know what type of deck you will build and where it will go, so now it’s time to get the things you’ll need to make it happen. Gathering the materials you need to build a deck is simple…if you take an organized approach.

The deck design you choose will let you know exactly what you need to complete a deck so pay careful attention to the materials and tools recommended for the job. It is especially important that you follow the recommendations and guidelines if you are just learning how to build a deck. Follow instructions and your job will be much easier.

Choose the wood you want for your deck and make sure you have all the necessary screws, posts and joists. If you don’t have a certain tool you can rent or buy them at a home improvement or hardware store. Getting the tools you need is a crucial part of building a deck, so read through your deck plans carefully to get an idea of exactly what tools are needed and which tools you need to secure.


Set Your Posts

Setting the posts is an important step in building a deck because it is what will provide stability to the deck. First you will need to carefully lay out the footing locations in precise lines. Your deck plans will let you know the distance between footings.

Then the footing holes must be built so that concrete can be poured into it for the stirrup bracket. Pour the concrete and place a stirrup bracket into the center of the concrete pad, leaving clearance space between the ground and post bottom. Be sure to check all posts to ensure they are vertical. You may need a spirit level to complete this part of the task.

Be sure to brace the post until it is stable so it sits properly in the concrete once it sets. If needed, cut the posts.


Fit The Bearers

Fitting bearers isn’t all there is to this part of deck building. Before you can even start you will need to measure the thickness of the bearer, joist and decking. Start measuring the thickness from the deck floor height up against the wall of your home if you are building a deck in this manner. Accuracy is key here as well so don’t approximate or guess; double and triple check before moving on.

The next part of fitting the bearers requires you to attach a piece of wood against the wall using bolts or screws, depending on the type of wall you have. The bolts or screws should be attached using regular intervals between for maximum stability. Haphazardly attached screws or bolts will make the entire uneven and unstable in some parts.

Use framing anchors or a housing joint to fix the remaining bearers to the posts.


Attach Joists

The joists will be attached across the bearers in regular intervals, most often with the help of framing anchors. Get rid of any pegs or nails that have been used as a guide as you complete this portion of building a deck.


Fit The Deck

Now it is time for the fun part; actually laying down the decking! Start at the wall of your home and work your way out. This is the safest and most logical method of deck laying so do not stray from this method.

Start next to the wall of your house and lay the deck across the joists. Use galvanized screws or nails to attach to the joints. Since you are so close to the finish line you will be tempted to rush through this part of the job as it is fairly simple. Avoid that temptation because this is the part of the deck that will be highly visible and seen by all. Take your time and look at each section as it is completed to check your work.

You want to make sure the decking is laid straight so it looks uniform and solid. You can use a piece of wood as a spacer or something equally sturdy.


Finish It

Now that your deck is laid and you can see in your mind how it will look completely ready for a backyard barbecue or pool party, it is time to take the image from your mind and implement it. Figure out what type of finish you want by choosing paints and oils. This will require you to do a bit of research on the timber you’ve chosen because all wood is not created equal.

You will want to figure out staining and weatherproofing this outdoor structure because you’ve just learned how to build a deck and you’ve done it…do you really want to do it again next year because you forgot to protect it?


Stay Protected

Building a deck is a big undertaking but not an impossible one with the right deck plans, tools and reliable materials. What can make any woodworking project come undone however, is poor safety. Take the proper precautions for yourself as well as anyone working with you to construct your deck.

Depending on the deck plan you select, you will almost certainly be required to handle a power tool or hand tool on occasion. Always protect your face by wearing safety goggles or glasses when you work with these tools. Having a beautiful deck is great, but not worth losing an eye.

Ear protection is something amateur deck builders worry little about, but it is just as important as eye protection. Power tools are loud and can cause damage to your eardrums. Don’t assume that you can handle it because you aren’t getting a headache or have experience working with power tools. As they say, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Check with your local building inspection office before you begin building a deck. Some jurisdictions require a permit before building additional structures on your property. Without permission you may be subject to large fines and penalties.

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