Wood Decking (4)

Wood decking (phase 4 of 7), provides information on how to select decking material; how to choose the correct fasteners; and one easy method of installing wood decking using our 10x10 deck example.

(explore the other 6 phases)

deck framing
Completed deck frame with footings

Before attaching any decking to the deck frame, the deck frame should be completely built, square, and supported by posts and concrete footings.

Wood Decking Materials

Always use #1 pressure treated lumber for all of the structural parts of a deck. You can also use this same material for surface decking, especially in regions where high rainfall and persistent moisture are factors. Western red cedar or redwood are also excellent choices for wood decking material. They are both naturally resistant to insects and decay, and have endured the test of time as durable decking materials. 

I have built many decks using combinations of all three of the decking materials mentioned above, but I prefer saving pressure treated pine for the deck structure, and using western red cedar or redwood for the decking, handrail, pickets, and trim. Redwood and cedar have many of the same qualities, but in Central Texas, cedar is much easier to find. There are many lumber yards that carry a wide range of sizes of cedar posts, beams, and decking material. The availability of the material that you choose is an important factor. It will likely be less expensive than a material that is hard to come by, and when one lumber yard is out of a particular size, you will likely find it somewhere nearby.

Screws vs. Nails

Wood decking can be attached using 16d galvanized spiral nails, but I believe most deck builders would agree that deck screws are a far better way to secure decking to the deck frame. There are different types of screw heads to consider. Phillips head screws have been around for a long time, but Phillips heads tend to strip out easily. You might even have to change Phillips drivers a few times before you're done with your decking job. Robertson, or square headed screws, are better than Phillips, but I prefer the Torx, or star drive screws. I believe they are superior to both Phillips and Robertson screws.

screw head types
Screw Head Types - [Phillips - Robertson (square) - Torx (star)]

An 18 volt cordless drill with a star drive attached will easily drive many 3" screws into 2" (nominal) thick decking without stripping out the heads. Of course, you will have to recharge the battery a few times.

Installing Wood Decking

Before you attach your first piece of decking, ensure that both of the outer 2x8 joists are as straight as possible. This is so that when you trim off your decking material, the overhang (1 1/2") will be the same from front to back (see below).

deck framing
(A) Underside view of decking (before it is cut to length)

The following instructions assume that the actual width of your 2x6 (nominal) decking is 5 1/2 inches wide (140 mm). If the width of your decking is different, you can adjust these procedures to compensate.

From the left front corner of the deck framing, measure back towards the house and make a mark at 4" (102 mm) on the top of the outer 2x8 joist. Perform this procedure again on the right front corner of the deck frame. Stretch a chalk line from the first point to the second point. Pull the line tight and pop it.

You should now have a straight line extending the complete width of the deck that is 4 inches (102 mm) from the front of the framing. This will be the position of the first deck board.

Pick out the straightest 10' (3048 mm) deck board from the lumber package. Starting at the front of the deck, center it between each side and line it up along the 4" (102 mm) chalk line. Once installed, the first board should overhang the front of the deck framing by approximately 1 1/2" (38 mm) and about 3" (76 mm) on each side. Screw the first deck board in place. Don't worry about the 3" overhang on each side. That will be trimmed off in a later step.

Add all of the remaining deck boards, except the last two (they will be added later). Space them approximately 1/8 inch (3 mm) apart. Let the ends overhang approximately 3" on each side, just like the first deck board. They don't need to line up perfectly, as long as at least 2 inches (51 mm) or more is hanging over on each end (see diagrams A and B).

In my region, western red cedar usually comes very wet from the lumber yard. For this reason, I do not leave any space between the deck boards, in fact, I install them tight against each other. When the deck boards dry out, the gap between planks is often at least 1/8" (3 mm). If for some reason your decking material is dry, leaving the 1/8" space between planks might be relevant.

decking plan
(B) - Topside view

Before installing the last two deck boards, trim off the ends of the ones you have already installed.  To do this, make a mark 1 1/2" from the framing on the last 2x6 that you installed, and another mark 1 1/2" from the framing on the first 2x6 that was installed (see diagram B). Stretch a chalk line between the two marks and pop a line across the top of your decking.

decking plan
(C) - Decking Plan - (plan view)

Once you have verified that your chalk line is correct, cut along the line with a circular saw to trim off the ends of the wood decking. Remember, "measure it twice, and cut it once." You can't add the wood back on after you cut it off! Perform the same steps on the other side of the deck.

Cut the remaining deck boards the same length as the other freshly trimmed boards and nail/screw them in place. Unless you are lucky, you will most likely have to rip the last deck board to make it fit.

If there is any remaining gap between the last (ripped) deck board and the house, you can (optionally) trim it with 2x2 as shown in the drawing above.

For deck design and structural information, check out the Prescriptive Residential Wood Deck Construction Guide, by the American Wood Council.

What next?

Continue to step 5 (of 7) - Building Deck Stairs

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