The Great Deck Debacle of ’17

There comes a time in every man’s life, when the desire to tackle a great DIY home improvement project exceeds his good sense.

For me, that event was the reconstruction of the deck in my back yard.

The original deck structure was about 20 years old, and there was an odd-shaped addition, nearly 15 years old.

The addition was built around an above-ground swimming pool, which we decided to remove, since upkeep on the pool had exceeded its benefit.

We began by removing the railings and stairs. The railings went quickly, as the screws holding them together were in good enough shape to back out, using my drywall screw gun.

The real grunt work began when we started removing the flooring planks. Even after cutting between several of the joists, a lot of effort was required to pry the planks up. Fortunately, my son is a “Master of De-construction”, and attacked the job with vigor! With pry-bars and hammers in hand, we soon had the critical areas stripped of decking.

Once the leading edge was clear of decking, we were able to begin work on expanding the support structure.

Bear in mind that due to my work schedule and uncooperative weather, this whole process played out over a couple of months of weekends and evenings.  This allowed something those of us in the Project Management world like to call “scope creep”. Our original plan was to simply re-floor the deck, expand one side a couple of feet to meet the garage wall, and square off the curved section where the pool had been.  However, after several family discussions, the project had grown to include not only the expansion to the garage, but stretching out into the former pool area a bit, and extending the entire length another six feet outward from the house. And that’s only the main floor! We also decided to add a step-down section, about 20 feet by 15 feet, to cover the span between the main deck and the front porch of the outbuilding where my son carries on with his model railroad. All together, this deck ends up covering more square feet than the house I was born into!

Needless to say, this created a lot more work than I had originally planned. In order to keep the process moving along as best it could, I made several small work aids. Each of these devices helped me be more accurate, or consistent, or quicker in the tasks they were designed to enhance. Let me share them with you now, in hopes they might inspire you to try something similar to streamline your next big project.

First, here is a simple jig to help with installing the deck flooring. Since my deck is wider than even sixteen-foot deck planks can span, the idea is to avoid adding “nailers” to the joists to allow proper attachment of the ends where two planks come together. Adding nailers (or trying to attach two planks over a single joist) reduces the strength at the joint, and looks odd because of the extra fasteners. I chose to create “lap joints” at each end of the planks. I removed half the plank’s thickness, to the width of one joist from the end of the plank. This allows the ends to overlap, and a single set of screws can pass through both pieces into the joist. The result is a strong, and aesthetically pleasing joint.


Next is a simple tool I made to help me keep an even spacing for the deck screws. I threw this together from a few scraps that were lying around my shop. This little gadget centers over the joists, and consistently marks locations for the screws. A bonus is that the little holes it marks help get the screws started quicker. I must warn you, though. Even using this tool to make small “starter holes”, and even using self-tapping screws, I found it necessary to drill actual pilot holes at the ends of the planks, to avoid the screws causing the wood to split.


This little tool is something I made to help with the deck, but is not really specific to this job. A center marker can be useful for a lot of projects. This one is simple, and not my original design. I just want to show how I made it.

This last item is something I’ve heard about for a long time, but never tried to use myself. When I started thinking about how to streamline the process of constructing the deck railings, it immediately came to mind as being extremely useful.

Known as a “story stick”, it is nothing more than a length of wood with various measurements marked on it, to help me quickly lay out the locations of the associated railing components. The “story stick” concept is almost as useful as templates for making rapidly-repeatable parts, and takes a lot less space to store.

Last, but not least, here is a quick tip about using a tool that I did NOT build – the drywall screw “gun” proved to have a great advantage over a normal drill or impact driver. Screwing the deck to the joists with this tool turned out to be the fastest operation of the whole project!


2 comments on “The Great Deck Debacle of ’17”

  1. Blake Potter Reply

    Great job, very informative. The story stick will really speed up the process and the aluminum spindles look really nice.

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