Building with Quality

Compliance with building codes ensures that your deck will be solid and long-lasting. However, you may want to go beyond basics and add features to enhance the strength and beauty of your deck. Here are some suggestions.
Better-than-average materials

Though it will increase the cost, consider buying top-quality lumber for the visible parts of the deck. Redwood costs a lot more than pressure-treated, but it has a classic look that nothing else can match.

No matter which lumber you choose, carefully select boards for the most visible parts of the deck, such as the cap of the railing. Select or No. 1 grade lumber or lumber with a low moisture content will look good years later; No. 2 lumber may not.

Wherever fasteners will be visible, think carefully about how they will look. Stainless-steel screws or nails may seem like an extravagance, but they may be worth it if you really like the way they look.

Planning visible joints

Wood joints on outdoor structures tend to separate over the years. Plan a deck with as few joints as possible and take a little extra time to make all the joints stronger.

Avoid fancy joinery unless you are an experienced carpenter using stable lumber. Setting boards into notches, for instance, may look good when first installed, but once the wood shrinks, the result will look sloppy. Avoid miter joints whenever possible; butt joints are easier to construct and less prone to separating.

Sometimes you can avoid butt joints in the decking if you buy extra-long boards; 18- or 20-foot-long boards may cost more and be hard to find (and handle), but they may be worth it if they eliminate joints.

Whenever there is the slightest chance that a nail or screw may split the board, drill a pilot hole before driving the fastener.

For the tightest joints, rent or buy a power mitersaw, which makes more accurate cuts than a circular saw.

If butt joints are necessary in the decking, attach a 2x4 cleat on the side of the joist to provide twice the nailing surface. Drill pilot holes before driving screws or nails through the decking boards. Consider installing a divider strip.

The outside corner of a railing top cap is a notorious trouble spot. Wood biscuits reinforce this joint invisibly. While a biscuit joiner is expensive (you'll likely want to rent it), it is far easier, more forgiving, and stronger than dowels or other fasteners.

Excavate the area and take steps to block weeds before building a deck, even if codes do not require these steps. This will help prevent mosquitoes from breeding in vegetation and keep unwanted shade-loving plants from growing up through the decking.

Cantilever the joists a few feet past the beam to hide some of the framing. If the underside is still visible, consider installing a skirt. Add an access door so you can store items under the deck.

A four-part rail post takes some time to build, but it has a more interesting appearance and is less likely to develop problems over the years than a single piece. Thick, wide boards are more likely to split than smaller boards. Even 4x4 posts often develop cracks.

Anchor stairway posts so they won't wobble from side to side. Most posts gain lateral strength by being attached to outside joists. However, the posts at the bottom of a stair rail are not connected to the deck and will be stronger if attached to a post anchor or sunk into a concrete footing. Position the post back far enough so it has maximum contact with the stringer.

Pro Tip: 2x4 decking with fewer fasteners

Decking made of 2x4s rather than the standard 2x6 (or 5/4x6) makes a closer decking pattern that many people find worth the extra cost and effort. If you use stable lumber with a low moisture content, you need only one nail or deck screw per joint to hold the decking firmly. If using nails, be sure to buy galvanized spiral or ringshank nails. Screws should be galvanized or corrosion-resistant.


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