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How to Build a Deck: Hanging Joists, Laying Deck Boards and Installing Rails and Steps

By Edited Jun 13, 2016 1 0

This is the third part of a series of articles that discusses how to build a deck.

Now that you have completed the deck framing, you can begin to imagine what your deck is actually going to look like.

It is one thing to see it on paper, and another to see the actual outline in wood. What may have seemed small on paper will most likely appear to be larger when you get it built.

Deck Framing - How to Install Joist Hangers

How to Build a Deck Part III
Credit: mjpyro

Hanging joists is one of the easier steps in building a deck, but you will need a helper to hold one end while you secure the other in place using joist hangers.

When you designed your deck, you should have consulted deck span tables that reference the proper spacing for joists based on the length of your deck. Personally, I would not go over 16 inch on center unless you are using 10x10 or 10x 12 boards for joists. A 10 inch thick joists is probably overkill. I used 8x12 pressure treated boards for my joists.

If you are creating a cantilever deck that I described earlier, the rule of thumb is to not extend the joists past the cross support beam by more than 1/3 of their length.

Build a Deck
Credit: mjpyro

Before proceeding to install deck boards, take the time to create some cross beams in between several of your joists. Cut a piece of board about 16 inches, enough to be able to cram tightly in between joists all around the deck. This will aid in the stability of the joists and it is easier to do now rather than going underneath the deck when the boards are installed.

I should mention that once you get the joist installed, you need to trim the support posts using a reciprocating saw. You could have done this in the last step, but I like to wait to see everything with the joists in place.

This part of the process should go really fast and when you are finished, you will have the support system for the deck completed.

Installing Deck Boards

Build a Deck
Credit: mjpyro

There are many options to choose from when deciding upon the right deck boards. This is an important step because everything you have done previously is virtually invisible to everyone. The deck boards and the railing will be what everyone focuses on so choose wisely.

I chose regular 5/16 pressure treated deck boards, but I will strongly consider the composite boards in the future simply because you never have to stain them.

Some people use galvanized nails to attach deck boards because they are cheaper than screws, but I am going to tell you why that is not a good idea. Inevitably, you will need to remove a board for some reason and nails are really hard to get out sometimes. And over the years, even the galvanized ones can weaken and when you try to pry them out, the head breaks off. So trust me, go with good quality deck screws.

If you are using wood for your deck boards, some people advise that you leave a small gap in between each board to allow for rain water to escape. However, that is not necessary in my opinion. Wood will shrink naturally over time so you can place them next to each other to start. If you allow for and 1/8 or 3/8 inch gap, understand than in a year of two, that gap is going to be at least double what it initially started out as.  

When you order deck boards, order them in the longest and a shorter size so that you can stagger them along the way. For instance, my deck is 22 feet in width. The longest deck board was 16 ft, so I order some of those and some 6 ft boards to stagger. You do not want all of your deck boards lining up together and creating an ugly seam up top.

Tips for Laying Deck Boards

Build a Deck
Credit: mjpyro

When laying deck boards, here is the best tip I can give you. Start from the outer edge away from the house and work your way in. You want full boards on the end which is most visible to everyone. As you work your way toward the house, inevitably you will have to cut a deck board the length of it in half to get the last one to fit in the space. It is better that this half deck board is closest to the house side rather than the rail side of the deck.

Also, you will encounter some cupped or bowed deck boards which will require that you use a pry bar to hold them in place while you screw them down. If a boards is cupped to one side, put the high side up and screw it into place.

Once your deck boards are laid, snap a chalk line along the edge and trim any excess off with a circular saw. The end boards should not extend the frame by more than an inch. Or, you can cut them flush with the frame joists and attach a quality fascia board made of cedar for instance, to improve the appearance  and cover any imperfections.

If a board is slightly humped, install it with the bark side up when possible to minimize cupping. The weight of people and objects on the deck, and of the board itself, will tend to flatten it. A curved board can also be used; use a board to pry it to the desired position and nail securely.

How to Build Stairs on a Deck

How to Build a Deck
Credit: mjpyro

Once I got the deck boards on, I practically had a deck finished however, there were two very important steps left.

First, the stairs turned out to be more difficult than I thought they would be. I cut my own stringers out of a couple of pieces 10x10 wood and attached them to one side of the deck over a cement patio at the bottom. If you are interested in creating your own stringers, there are calculations and tables available to figure the rise and run of the stringers. I will not go into that here.

In fact, I recommend that you purchase the pre-built stringers at the store and be done with it. The job will go much faster. The only situation where that isn’t possible is when you have a very high deck. They only sell them for decks about 6 ft high and lower. If your deck is higher than that, you will have to create your own stringers out of a very long piece of wood.

My only advice on stairs is that you should use 2x12 boards for your treads.

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How to Install a Handrail

Deck handrails are the most visible part of your deck and there are several options to choose from. Initially I did my deck using wood balusters, however after staining those once, I decided never again. I replaced the entire rail system a few years later with the black aluminum balusters and I recommend them highly.

Your railing posts that give it strength can be built a couple of ways. If you had the forethought, you could have purchased very long support post that extend up high enough to be the basis for a deck railing. However, that takes a lot more planning and those posts can be heavy. If you were going that route, you would definitely need additional help to hold everything in place while the concrete sets. Any imperfections in the way you set your posts would be exacerbated up top.

I bolted my posts to the side of the deck. Actually, I purchase premade deck rail supports that were already notched. Half of the post rest on top of the deck while part of it extends about 8 inches over the edge and is bolted down through the header beam.

You can make your own deck support posts using pressure treated 4x4, but again, I recommend you go the premade route to save you some time. These types come with a cap already designed into the wood.

Next, I ran 2x4 at the top and bottom of each rail span and attached aluminum balusters about 3 ½ inches apart according to code. I will not go into that process because I talked about it in depth in another related article on choosing the right deck railing.

Build a Deck
Credit: mjpyro
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Summary

How to build a ground level deck
Credit: mjpyro

Once your deck is completed, you need to stain it to protect it from the elements. It is best to wait a couple of weeks to allow the pressure treated wood to dry further. I have seen people recommend that you wait for 6 months, even a year, but I wouldn’t do that if I were you. The sun can begin to gray the wood almost immediately and I do not like that look.

The only thing I would not recommend doing is painting your deck. I have seen painted decks in white or off white and I think that is a terrible idea for a couple of reasons. First, it will show dirt and pollen easier, but more importantly, if you decide you want to stain it later, you will have to strip it and that is a real pain. Take my advice and stain it with an oil based stain. There are so many types of stains you can choose from to meet your preferences, but I went with a medium dark stain called Canyon Brown, but again, it is up to you.

Enjoy your deck!

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