How to Build a Deck: The Ultimate DIY Step-by-step Guide for Beginners

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The King of DIY Projects: building your own deck. Nothing better than sitting out on the deck for a summer night, watching the stars. Or kicking back for a day of grilling and relaxing.

A deck is like the refreshment center of the home, even though it's outside. But because getting a deck built by a company can cost upwards of about $35 per square foot. That can get crazy expensive!

If you're ready to take this project on as a DIY endeavor, then keep reading for our user guide on how to build a deck!

First Things to Know About How to Build a Deck

Hopping in your vehicle and zipping down to the nearest hardware store to buy wood isn't what you'll want to do.

Building a dream DIY deck might seem simple in your head; couple posts, attach some boards, make a floor across those and boom you're done.

But, as you're probably aware, it's actually a little more complicated. Things like framing, jointing, sinking, and proper deck protection all need to be factored in to keep your project from being a bust.

What's the old expression? Measure twice, cut once? Skim through these quick reminders before you start.

Blueprints

You don't have to go all out and get official blueprints for your deck, but you're going to want a master plan. A deck design plan, if you will.

Having a document(s) that show what you're doing, what steps you'll take, the timeline of the project, and the cost is crucial.

Depending on your neighborhood or township, you may need to submit a document to get you're building plans approved.

The blueprint is a great check-in item to make sure you're on budget and on track.

Clearing

This step may come as a no brainer, but don't overlook its necessity.

The area for your deck needs to be cleared. Completely.

Don't start building and say you'll uproot that tree later, or move that bolder down the road, or fill that unlevel ground when needed. Do it all before you start.

We say this because if you start building but have a small tree you need to remove down the road, that removal process could cost you a lot more time and money with half a deck in the way.

Even on small trees, roots can spread over six meters, disrupting your deck foundation and cementing. Some trees will require lots of digging or even a backhoe to completely uproot. And digging under a deck (or trying to wedge a backhoe in somewhere) doesn't really work.

Tools…Lots of Tools

Building a deck takes more than a hammer, nails, and a few pieces of wood. Just so you have some ideas of what to make sure your design plans have, we've made a list of the most common deck building tools and materials (other than wood, of course!)

  • Level
  • Power Auger
  • Tape Measure
  • Hammer
  • Clamps
  • Power Drill
  • Cardboard Caisson Tubing
  • Concrete
  • Concrete Forms
  • Composite Decking
  • Stakes (Wooden)
  • String
  • Joists
  • J-Bolts

Sticks and Strings

When you're ready to start construction, begin by placing stakes in the ground to show where your posts will be. From these stakes, you can run string lines to mark parameters of the deck, support beams, and other specific designs.

Don't just sink a post in the ground and then eye-ball where the next one will be.

Draw everything out, then create it with smaller, less expensive materials. Then one by one, you'll start to replace these with the actual deck.

Building the Deck

Now onto the fun stuff: the construction.

Get ready to get your hands dirty, your knees sore, and your thumbs throbbing because as much fun as this portion is, it has its costs. But you'll get through it all, you've got this!

Breaking Ground

Using the power-auger, here you're going to break through the earth where you've placed your framing stakes.

You can use a shovel for this, but the process is slower and more demanding, and will most likely require you to refill sections to keep concrete forms snug.

We recommend digging at least a 15-inch hole. Clear any excess dirt that falls.

After the hole is dug, add a cardboard caisson tube for pouring in the concrete. When you add the concrete mixture, shave off any excess on the top with a spare stake.

These concrete tubes should all be level, as boards will soon run from concrete section to concrete section. Your stakes-with-string will help here, as you can measure out section to section and then verify their balance with a level.

The concrete should take about 48 hours to dry properly. Before it does so, implant a J-bolt. You'll attach boards to these later which will help fasten in the deck.

Installing the Ledger Board

The most important board in the deck.

The ledger board is what safety connects the deck to your home, so it's crazy important and something you'll want to spend some extra time on to make sure it's done right.

The ledger board should be a minimum of a 2×8 and always as deep as the deck's floor joist. It is to be attached directly to the house wall trusses, rim board, or frame. Never attach the ledger board to paneling, brick or siding.

Before you attach the ledger board, don't forget to waterproof the section. This is done by adding a rubber membrane that will save your home and deck from future water damage problems.

Use through-bolts to permanently attach the ledger board to the house when everything is in place. For this step, you'll want to bolt the board to the house from the inside out. That way you can fasten the nut to the bolt from the outside and make modifications as needed.

We recommend adding additional waterproofing such as roof-flashing. This is will help save the wood from water damage down the road which could cause the deck to collapse.

Framing

Place your mainboards into those J-Bolts you sank earlier. Bolt these in with corner brackets so that they're sturdy and secure at every end. For this make sure the nicer side of your boards is facing out.

Once's these placeholders are set, you can start framing the rest of your deck.

At every 16 inches (or 14 depending on the size of your treated wood) install steel joist hangers. These will allow you to attach each treated joist to their proper place, and bolt them down from there.

The frame can get complicated depending on the design of your deck. Make sure every joist is secured with a hanger, though, to keep things running secure and smooth.

Once you're done framing, don't throw away excess wood, as a lot of it can be used to make furniture for your home or deck!

The Surface of the Deck

Installing your decking material is when all this hard work really starts to pay off.

To begin, line up your first board and nail it to the outside frame. Attach it then to the rest of the frame using deck screwing.

We recommend having a 1/4th-inch space between each piece of deck. This helps things stay snug while avoiding any stubs forming later.

Staircase

The staircase is really its own section of decking, but if your deck is off the ground it's, well, necessary.

For building a great staircase, we recommend always adding 2×12 skirt boards to the side.

Because deck stairs don't often context to walls, they are a lot less sturdy and tend to wobble or fall apart over time. Adding the skirt boards to the sides serves as reinforcement to help save the staircases from rough use.

Deck Building Pro-Tips

Because every deck is different and will require different things, we aren't able to cover every single deck building detail. But we do have a quick list of common Pro-Tips to remember

  1. Gapping. Remember to allow for a gap between doors and the deck. You don't want your deck door to be unopenable because of deck rising over the years. You also don't want a noticeable drop (or rise) for when people leave your house to step out onto your deck. We recommend a 3-inch gap.
  2. Tree Centers. Avoid using beams that have ringed butts, like they were the heart of a tree. These beams tend to bend and warp more than others over time.
  3. Miters. Avoid them. This is when you have two pieces angled together perfectly. They may look great at first, but your outdoor deck will grow or shrink far more than any inside housing. This adaption causes things to become un-perfect, thus creating sections of a deck that can stub, cut, or damage the things.
  4. Material. Make sure you read up on your decking materials. Composite Decking, Redwood, Pressure Treated, Tropical Hardwood, and PVC are all different and will react to environments differently. Know what's best for your DIY deck project.
  5. Overloading. To bring this thing full circle, overloading ties back to your blueprints. Known what your deck will be used for. Will you want to add a hot tub one day? What about an outdoor bar? Make sure you build your deck with the future in mind so that your deck can handle it!

More Decking

If you want to know more about how to build a deck and other DIY projects, head on over to our blog where we post tons of content. Remember, deck building will be different for everyone, so we recommend doing thorough research before you break ground. But once you're ready to start, we're here to help with ideas.

If you want more great project ideas and style guides to match them, sign up for our free catalog. Whatever you're construction plans hold, we'd love to be a part of them!

How To Build A Deck