How To Build A Deck: Adding The Joists

Alternate punny post title: Joist to the world. (I’ll pause while you golf clap)

Good news! My dad made it back from my grandma’s house in West Virginia so operation double-up the girders and bolt them to the posts was able to commence with him at my side. As I started to tell my dad “Okay, you’re going to hold the board in place in the air while I drill pilot holes…” he cut me off and suggested we just put both girder boards on the ground, nail them together and that way they’d both rest on the notched posts – no air-hold required. Smart. I knew there was a reason I picked him as a father.

So we clamped the girder boards together so what-would-become-the-top-edge was perfectly lined up (boards are never perfect, so even two boards marked 2 x 10 might be slightly different widths). Then we nailed them together.

To refresh your memory about how this deck will come together, here’s this handy little graphic that hopefully makes it a bit more clear:

Next we were able to rest the now double-thick girder on the notches and proceed with bolting them together. Our county requires us to use “two 1/2″ through bolts” – which meant I had to drill 1/2″ pilot holes through about 4.5″ inches of wood – which was a little bit of a challenge since my longest drill bit was barely that long.

But we got it done and were able to slide the bolts through with a bit of hammering, and then tightened the nuts on the other end.

It was actually a remarkably simple process, and it probably took us about two hours to do the whole thing. Not necessarily a short time when you’re standing in 95-degree morning heat. But, I’d say it’s the first part of this process that has actually been faster than we anticipated.

Oh, and here you can see how we joined the girders on the long side where it’s actually two sets of boards that butt up against each other on one post. It’s like a through bolt party up in here.

Since our morning was going so speedily, I even convinced my dad to help me go ahead and get the diagonal girder and posts measured, cut and set in place.

So by about noon we were looking at having accomplished pretty much our entire goal for the day.

Does that mean we get to stop? Of course not. Well, it did for my dad since he had other things to do at home. But after taking a breather (by which I mean working on something else inside with Sherry for a couple of hours) I returned to my slowly-getting-completed deck for my next step: laying weedblock and gravel.

A bunch of you guys have recommended taking some weed-preventative measures and I figured this was my last chance to have easy access to the entire space under the deck (since adding joists will mean lots of new obstacles). So I removed one existing obstacle – the diagonal girder that we hadn’t bolted in yet.

Next came the weedblock. Using some leftover from Clara’s rock box plus another $12 roll from Home Depot, I was able to cover the whole area without a problem. I have mixed feelings about weedblock (since my experience has been that some weeds just grow on top of it instead of under it) but I figured it’s better than nothing. And for about $15 (including the ground staples to hold it in place) it’s worth giving it a shot since it’s the recommended method in our area when it comes to dealing with the ground under a deck.

Next up was covering the area in gravel, since it’s harder for weeds to grow in a soil-less environment (and pests will like a weed-block-and-gravel-filled area a lot less than a damp-muddy-and-weedy spot to hide). My original plan had been to get a delivery of rocks from the same stoneyard where we bought the gravel for our DIY patio, but I forgot to place the order and then was too impatient to wait. So instead I picked up two car-loads of this bagged gravel from Home Depot (it was marked down from $3.38 to $2.50/bag, saving me about $35!).

It wasn’t necessarily easy hauling all of it from our driveway to the other side of the house where the deck is going in (again in near-100-degree heat) but by this point I had become pretty accustomed to being sweaty and gross (and the people at Home Depot were unfortunately accustomed to seeing me that way). So here’s the space slowly filling up with rocks…

Almost there…

…and complete. It took me 40 bags total. I know I’ll need more once I put the stairs in, but for now I’m just going to cross that bridge when I come to it.

It was about 7:30pm by the time I finished getting my rocks down, so I called it a day. Though I was almost excited enough to keep going because my next step would be joists… which meant it would finally start looking like a deck.

So the next day – despite being more sore than I’ve been in recent memory – I bucked up and got my joist on. Each of my joists would be about 7.5 feet long, so it meant trimming a smidge off of my 8 foot long 2 x 8″ boards.


I mainly took this picture of me marking my cut because every time I did this my eyes kept catching the word “PIVOT” in the corner of my straight edge and this scene from Friends would replay in my brain.

Anyways, once Ross was out of my head, I got to cutting with the circular saw – who’s like my new best buddy on this deck project.

Once cut, the joists actually just rest on top of the girders – so there’s no additional support needed to keep them up. But I did have to add some hangers on either side to give them some stability side-to-side. I had already installed all of the hangers on the siding side of the house, so it just meant adding them on the brick side.

And since these hangers were no longer about keeping the hangers up, it was actually more critical that I nail them in on the side (thanks to the handy angled-nail guides already in the hanger).

This was by no means a swift process (each hanger required 10 nails) and it didn’t take me long to wonder if I should’ve bought a nail gun for this project. It wasn’t much longer after that that I was actually pretty certain I should’ve bought one. But alas, I just kept plugging along – thinking of how I would look like Hercules when all was said and done (spoiler alert: this did not happen, strangely enough).

As I added each joist, I double-checked my level as I went. If they weren’t level (while accounting for a slight slope away from the house for drainage) there wasn’t a whole lot to be done since my girder was already set. But doing this did help me spot one board that was too warped to use (it curved up on one end). And had anything been too crazy un-level I could buy (or rent) a planer to scrape a bit off the top of the offending joist.

Here’s Clara watching me build what she now called my “pretty pretty deck.” Not the adjective I would choose myself, but as long as she’s showing interest in the project – I’ll take it.

Slowly but surely more joists joined their joist-y brethren and the space started looking more and more deck-ish.

When I got towards the end I did have to go ahead and bolt the diagonal girder in place, since the joists on the end would need to rest on it.

And finally, about four hours later – all of my joists were in.

I still have to add the rim boards along the exposed edge. It will be a bit complex because this is where I have to be precise about the angle I cut, so I didn’t have the mental juice left to tackle it after such a long day. And for now I just left the joists on the end extra long (once I’ve determined my angle, I’ll use the circular saw to cut them more precisely).

Not too shabby though, right?

Before the day was through, I couldn’t help but test out my new creation a bit. You know, to make sure it actually could hold some human weight.

It did! So I broke out a little happy jig. Call it my “Happy Happy Joist Joist” dance if you will.

Once I get those rim boards in, my next step is deck boards. I can’t tell you how excited we are to finally be at this step. This project has taken much longer than we anticipated (for which I blame equal parts on ourselves, inspectors, heat, and the lack of an army of helpers to speed things along). Oh well, that’s DIY for ya. It’ll totally be worth it when we’re sitting out there sipping lemonade, right? What have you guys been up to this weekend? Any outdoor or indoor projects that are finally turning a corner and looking like they’re closer to done than undone?

Psst- Wanna catch up on all of the deck action? Here’s where we shared our vision for the space, then we removed the plantings and the old balcony, followed by selecting our materials and documenting our first day of building progress. Then we dug our post holes, and then learned that we failed our first inspection. We revised our plan and dug more holes (which got approved) and proceeded to set posts. Whew, all caught up.


  1. says

    Lookin’ good!

    And John, if it makes you feel better about dancing on the deck to test it out, when my parents got their electric pool cover, we (the kids) were all invited to dance on it to see how strong/great it was (granted, we were also 8 and 6 years old so we didn’t weigh much, but that’s not important… it was fun!).

  2. SherriMc says

    Thanks for sharing the joists!! Great post, you’re doing awesome, especially at picking your parents.

  3. Penny says

    I am SO glad that I’m not the only one that thinks of Ross yelling “Pivot!” whenever I’m moving furniture or see the word. It’s a curse, but a funny one.

  4. says

    It looks awesome! I’m soooo excited to see it almost finished! It’s been a lot of fun seeing the whole process of it all. It makes me want to talk my husband into building me a deck! We spent our weekend, or should I say my husband spent the weekend, cleaning up a big tree that fell in our backyard. Not fun.

    Oh and I love hat episode with Ross saying pivot! So hilarious!

  5. says

    It’s finally starting to come together! You must be thrilled. It’s awesome that you are doing this now so I can learn from all your mistakes before we build our deck. Of course ours comes with a bit more demo (we’re talking bulldozers), so it’s awhile away still.

  6. Eva says

    Wow what a productive day!!! You talk about the project taking longer than anticipated… Reading that made me realize that we started our bathroom renovation about the same time you started working on the deck, and it took much much longer than anticipated but it is finally completed. I thought it would take 2 weeks (very optimistic, I know) but it ended up taking 5 weeks and by the end of it I thought that would be the last home improvement projet for a long long time to come. But we love our new bathroom and the diy appetite is coming back :)

  7. says

    We are unfortunately still chugging away at our “little” deck project which is probably about 5 times the size of yours. So yep spent most of Saturday on that. And it actually looks more undone than done. I am estimating 2 more months. Looks like that will be one to enjoy NEXT summer I guess. These loooong home improvement projects are no fun. I want INSTANT satisfaction — or at least satisfaction after 8 hours of work. Where is DIY Network when you need them? Yard Crashers…hello…I need you! LOL!

  8. says

    DIY does take longer sometimes but man is it worth it!

    We finally finished our bed build and your joists remind me of the slats on our bed. Even though we were excited to have a bed, seeing the raw wood all built up was so exciting (like your joists). It is probably a good thing I didn’t do a Happy Slat Dance on our little 1x3s though…lol. I was also thinking of Sherry as I combed the house for anything to make the bedding and nightstands look nicer without spending money. :)

  9. Rachel says

    Wow! You are almost there! It’s going to be so awesome when you’re finished. We recently added railing to our deck and landscaped our backyard, and it’s completely changed how we use the space!

  10. says

    Did I spot a “Perfect Strangers” reference (Happy, Happy Joist, Joist Dance)? Please tell me you know the show I’m talking about. Cousin Larry… Balki… causing all sorts of hijinx in Chicago.

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