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How to DIY build a deck

Last Updated Aug 9, 2017 · Written by Rob Schneider


You need a deck and have decided to make it a DIY job. Where do you start? What steps do you need to take to build a sturdy deck? It is a doable DIY project, but you need to take a step-by-step approach and do it right.

One: Preliminary Steps

Before you buy materials, you need to get council approval to build a deck. If it is a DIY project, you may also need to take an owner builder course, but it will depend on the cost of the deck. If it is a small, inexpensive deck that is close to ground level, council approval will be easy and you won't need to take a course.

DIY deck build

Also check for underground cables, water pipes and anything else that will get in the way of setting your footings.

Two: Make a Plan

Decks are made of several components. Each component has to be installed in the right order. The components of a deck include:

  1. Posts
  2. Bearers
  3. Joists
  4. Decking boards

If the deck is elevated, you may also need to install stairs and a handrail.

A good first step is to make a plan. Start by marking the perimeter of your deck with stakes. Then mark with paint or more stakes the places you need to dig holes for your posts. Posts can be concrete posts or timber. If you use timber posts, make sure the timber is graded suitable for ground contact. Both treated pine and some hardwoods can be used, but you may need to coat hardwood posts to prevent termites and other pests from eating them.

Count the number of posts you need and the height the posts need to be. Make a scale drawing and you can then figure out how many bearers, joists and decking boards you need. Always get extra to account for offcuts.

When you make a list of materials, don't forget concrete, nails, screws and other things you will need to build the deck. Buy all the materials ahead of time and you won't be making frequent trips to the hardware store or decking supplier for more materials. Take your plan with you and the decking supplier can help you choose the right timbers for the job.

Three: Building the Deck

Some tools you need to build a perfect deck include:

  • Spirit level
  • Nail gun
  • Power drill
  • Circular saw
  • Shovel
  • Saw horses
  • Carpenter's pencil
  • Square
  • Tape measure
  • Square
  • Safety goggles

Start by installing the posts. You can trim them later, but they need to be plumb and perfectly in line. Start by digging all your holes and pouring concrete in the holes to act as a footing for the posts. Let the concrete dry and then install the posts. Make sure they're plumb and pour concrete around them. Let the concrete dry before you move on to the next step.

There are two ways to install posts. You can trim them later or trim them ahead of time. The concrete footings will be solid, so you just need to set the posts, make sure they're plumb and mark where the bearers are going to go. Use a spirit level to be sure they are level. If you use this method, it will be easier to notch the posts. Remember to allow extra height for the joists and decking boards.

Decking DIY

After you've notched the posts, making sure they are level, install the bearers using two bolts per post. Check for level in both directions to be sure your DIY deck will be perfectly level.

Once you've installed the bearers, you can install the joists. Two long nails on each side of the joists will secure them to the bearers. Now you're ready to install the decking. Remember to leave a gap between the decking boards. Find something to mark the gap and the job will go more smoothly. You can always trim the decking boards after you've nailed them to the joists, so don't worry too much about their length. Use two nails on every joist and you may want to countersink the nails.

Decking DIY

Stairs and handrails can be a more complicated than decking, but if you learn how to install stairs and sturdy handrails, it can still be a DIY job.

The Finishing Touches

If you've been careful with measurements and made sure everything is plumb and level, you'll be ready to finish the deck. If the nails have been countersunk, you may want to fill the holes, but this isn't a necessity.

The most important thing is to apply a sealer to the deck. If the deck is made of treated pine, you may want to apply a stain first. Be thorough when applying a sealer. Wait for the first coat to dry and then apply a second coat.

Finishing touches to a deck

As a novice, take your time building the deck. Check and recheck to be sure the posts are plumb and the bearers level. Building a deck can take more than one weekend. If you don't have the tools for the job, consider hiring a decking contractor to build the deck. When you add up the costs of tools and materials, it may be a more economical way to build a deck and the job will have the professional touch.

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