How To Build A Deck: Let’s Get This Party Started

What party? The decking party, that’s what. Never been to a party where people put decking down? Then you have not lived, my friend. But come to think of it, my party didn’t have any guests so maybe I’m the one who should reconsider my definition. Anyways – let’s talk deck boards, since I gave you this sneak peek of my progress last week:

As you may be able to tell from that photo, we bit the bullet and went for the “zippered” seam pattern that we saw at our local art museum.

But before we talk about planning for that, we actually had two commonly asked questions on our last post, which were:

  1. What made you guys chose to go with exposed screws instead of hidden ones?
  2. Is it ok to lay decking boards that close?

So without further ado, those answers for ya:

  1. Sherry and I both grew up with decks with traditional exposed screws and they were beautiful and held up for decades, so we’ve decided to keep it classic and just line up all of our screws like the zippered seam deck that we included above as our inspiration (it’s hard to see, but in person the screws are visible, they’re just all very clean and nicely lined up instead of randomly drilled in). Not only was this choice something that we thought would be easiest, we also thought it would be the most functional (we can easily tighten any screws that might get loose over time since they’re so simple to access from above).
  2. And as for the board spacing, since we’re using pressure treated wood the local engineers/designers said can be placed pretty close (pressure treated wood is known to contract over time). So there are no worries about things being laid too close (and it’ll all shrink up over time – so we’ll end up with gaps for water drainage and leaves to fall through, etc).

But even before laying our zippered seam, first we had to plan for another feature of our deck design  – the “picture frame” border. That’s when you basically add a, well, frame around the outside of your deck with boards that run parallel to the edges (meeting at mitered corners) and then fill in the interior with the rest of of your pattern. Since most of our decking would run the long way (parallel to the brick siding), this meant adding some boards at either end that ran parallel to the sliding door. We figured it was one of those touches that would make it look a bit more polished. But it did take some extra planning since I needed to make sure all of our boards still screwed securely to the joists below.

To make sure all of my boards ended on a joist, I actually had to add an additional joist here since my “frame” board rested across the entire first joist, leaving the deck board hanging out to dry (it’s one of those code things to attend to to ensure things are really secure for the long haul).

You can see I also added a small block of spare 2 x 8 between the two joist so the frame board had another place to rest on / screw into.

You can see better here how the picture frame is starting to shape up. I actually only did these two sides to start with (rather than the entire frame) since I figured I’d work my way out from here.

But before I could start adding more deck boards I had to actually add two joists to help me achieve the zippered pattern. We wanted the boards to be staggered about 5 inches at the seam, which didn’t jive with my current standard-joist set up (which were 16″ apart).

But no biggie here either. I just added two additional joists (one shown below and another at the end of these boards) and I was ready to go. I could’ve added these when doing the rest of the joists, but Sherry and I wanted to wait until this step to decide exactly where on the deck we wanted the zippered seams to be (because of the length of the deck we’ll have two of them). We chose the spot that we did because it’ll help define the area where our outdoor dining table will eventually go (it will be centered between the seams so they’ll be visible on either side of the table like in this rendering).

So with all of my extra support added, I could finally start cutting boards, laying them in place and screwing them in. Ha. Lay. Loo. Yah.

You may notice that we’re using pressure-treated 2 x 6″ boards for a decking instead of the 5/4″ stuff. This wasn’t really a conscious decision – it was just what 84 Lumber suggested when they gave us the quote. But I’m glad we went with it because in the long run it should help the deck feel more solid and warp less.

Here’s the first section of the deck nearly all laid in place with the zippered seam on one edge. At this point I had only screwed in the ends but planned to go back later and put the rest of the screws in (I’m putting in two screws everywhere a deck board meets a joist). I had already read in our county that all deck boards must span at least four joists, which is exactly what these do. Whew.

When it came to the last board I got sort of lucky. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be left with a sliver of a space to fill – giving me both an awkward look and the challenge of filling it (had it been less than 2 inches I probably would’ve just substituted one 2 x 6 for a 2 x 8). But luckily my 2 x 6s fit almost perfectly as-is. I did have to shave about a 1/4″ off the edge of the frame board. But since that edge is hidden under the siding it didn’t really matter how clean or perfect my cut was. And yes, our siding still needs some sanding / caulking / power washing / repainting. Haha. It’s on the list!

With my first (albeit small) section done, I was feel pretty excited. On to the middle section where I’d just be placing full boards (10 feet long) in place.

Well, this is where my planning got a little off. The end joists that these boards were supposed to rest on were a little less than 10 feet apart. Less by 1 and 1/8th of an inch to be exact. That meant I had to trim every single 10-foot board by a smidge so that the ends would rest exactly at the middle of a joist to be screwed into place. Not the worst thing that could ever happen (since I was able to cut three at a time) – but it was still a bit of a time suck.

By the end of my first afternoon of laying decking I had gotten this far before the sun started to set and it was time to close up shop for a late dinner with the wifey (who had been blog/Clara wrangling all day along with churning out some last minute book edits).

But first I had Sherry snap this picture to represent how I was feeling after my first day of board laying. For starters, I was feeling accomplished that I had finally created a solid platform. This thing is actually starting to feel like a deck!

Secondly, I was feeling pretty darn exhausted. It had been nearly a full day of work and although it wasn’t nearly as scorching as some of my previous days of work out there, it was still August in Virginia – which means heat and humidity were my party guests all day.

Last but not least, I was in pain. Why? Because after who knows how many hours of walking atop these joists without issue… I fell. Early in the day I was carrying a 2 x 6 and I didn’t put my foot squarely on a joist and it slipped off. I fell through, but caught myself when my back connected with one joist and what can only be described as my “lower buttock” hooked around another. It hurt. But I’ll take a bruised lower buttock over a stinging middle groin any day. (Seriously, I was a couple inches off from having a great America’s Funniest Home Video submission). So I’d say it was a mix of bad luck and good luck going on during that fall.

But I got some food in my belly, milked my injury to the wifey, and got a good nights sleep before heading back out the next day to pick up where I left off (and take some better process pictures along the way). For instance, here’s how I was setting my screws. Rather than pre-drilling all of my holes, I just used a hammer to get the screw stuck in the wood (and a level as a straight edge to help keep them all lined up) before taking my power drill to them.

Drilling isn’t as simple as I’d like, since 84 gave me screws with a standard top and they tend to slip and strip a bit more than I’d like. Some of you had suggested getting screws with the star-shaped bit, which I definitely would’ve preferred. But at this point I’m just plowing through with what I’ve got on hand.

Summer was back in full force on this day and it was too brutal to be out in the sun so I (very cowardly) just worked in the shaded area. So even though I still had screws to set in some of my boards from the previously day, I went ahead and kept adding more boards. Oh and I checked which way the boards “cupped” since that always makes a difference when laying things like decking (more on that here).

One other challenge that kept progress from being lightning fast was dealing with warped boards. When you’re using 10-foot long boards it’s virtually impossible to get one that’s perfectly straight. So often I’d set one end and find the other looking like this.

So to conquer the gap, I’d set my screws in the deck board far enough so I wouldn’t have to hold them in place (but not far enough that they’d come through the other end yet). Then I’d use my body to force the board against the other. Sometimes this was pretty easy to do. Sometimes it took everything in me.

But once I had it where I wanted it, I used a free hand to drive the screws in and secure it.

I almost finished the middle section and was about to trim the side of my frame piece so it would fit when I had to pack things up because we had an appointment to get to. I asked Sherry to snap one picture of me and my sweaty self when Clara pushed past Sherry for her first trip on what she calls “the pretty, pretty deck.”

I guess she just wanted to get a closer look at my progress…

… which she appeared to approve of.

But it really turns out she just wanted to mooch off my water.

And cast a keen eye on the area I still had to finish. Maybe she was playing the role of the inspector?

But she finally headed back in so Sherry could get her shot. Sadly it doesn’t capture exactly how sweaty I was (okay, maybe you guys aren’t sad about that). Let’s just say I had literally soaked through every piece of clothing – shirt, shorts, boxers… even my belt was damp. Sherry had a good time wondering how the heck a belt can get wet (Sherry: “wait, so you sweated through your boxers, through your shorts, and through your belt?!?!” Me: “I’m a man! Doing manly things on a hot day!”)

But it was totally worth it. We’re especially in love with the zippered seams, and we think when the wood shrinks up a bit and we stain it, it’ll be even more noticeable (like the inspiration picture we included up top). As for the schedule, I probably have one more day of deck laying (since half of these boards are still missing screws through the middle) before I can move on to the final phase: the railing and stairs. Which means the finish line is almost in our sights – assuming the weather cooperates. Although by now I’ve worked in heat advisories and thunderstorm warnings, so the forecast isn’t really fazing me that much anymore. Hope I didn’t just jinx myself. Hurricane season is upon us after all…

What have you guys been working on lately? Anyone else ever manage to sweat through a leather belt? Or have a two year old come out and examine their work?

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, learned that we failed our first inspection, revised our plan and dug more holes (which got approved) and proceeded to set posts. Next it was time to install our joists, do a bunch of last minute prep for deck boards, and whip up a mood board with our design plan. Whew, all caught up.


  1. Matthea says

    So. Impressive. This feat of engineering tops the list of your accomplishments, in my opinion!
    Way to go, John!

  2. marcy says

    This is absolutely amazing! You should be extremely proud of yourself! If you guys ever get the itch to build more decks, you’re always welcome in St. Louis! =)

  3. says

    Lookin good guys, lookin’ good…I love that zippered look because it’s such a thoughtful design element. People will see there was alot of thought put into the creation because it won’t be the “norm”. We currently are at a standstill on our office project because we are the new parents of a Ryobi table saw – and have no idea how to change the saw out! Our friends borrowed it and we need to put in a new saw to cut the floor boards and so far, no dice. You have any tutorials on here?

    My best, Lynn

  4. Melissa says

    Great progress!!! Can I just say that I am most excited at how adorable Clara’s shirt is!!! What a cutie.

    • says

      Sorry if this is unclear, the boards won’t stay this close at all. Over time they will shrink up and contract to make gaps between them! Hope it helps!


    • says

      It really depends how swollen they are when you put them in (it has been super hot and humid here, so we think ours are probably really bloated, but as the sun dries them out and the moisture inside of them is evaporated, they’ll contract – maybe about a quarter of an inch?)


  5. Kim says

    Looks awesome :) John, you’re such a trooper. I hope you hang up a big sign when you’re finished proclaiming to the world, “JOHN BUILT THIS WITH HIS OWN 2 HANDS!”

  6. says

    It is looking great! My husband just built a deck for us and it is gorgeous. Unfortunately, it is also August in Florida so between the heat, humidity, and mosquitoes we won’t be able to fully enjoy it until the fall. Hello football parties!!!

  7. says

    WHOPA!! it looks really great! :) what an awesome job on the zippery-doo-dah!

    and I sweat through belts on a regular basis working on the beach in the hot hot hot caribbean. (is it grosser that I’m not a man doing manly things?)
    I’ve learned that canvas or synthetic cloth belts are best because I just throw them in the washer without even taking them off my pantS! in case you decide to sweat through your belts more often,

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