Building a Basic Deck

May 10


Johnny Shaw

Johnny Shaw

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As summer approaches, we get the urge to barbecue and enjoy the outdoors. Setting in the grass has its enjoyment factors but there is a few downsides. A simple deck will eliminate or reduce these problems and enhance your yard.


Building a deck may seem a daunting task,Building a Basic Deck Articles but is not impossible if you have a few basic skills such as using a shovel, level, tape measure, hammer, saw and drill.  These tools are straight forward in their use and are skills that are easily mastered.  Don’t let them scare you away from this easy task.  I will give you the step by step procedures for building a simple deck in your back yard that you can enjoy for years to come. This project can be completed in a hard weekend. 

The first thing you need to decide is where you want your deck and how large you want it.  For first time builders, don’t start to large or complicated.  As your skill improves, you can add to your deck and add features that will give your deck more interest.

An eight foot by ten foot deck is large enough for a small group of people to enjoy without falling over each other.  Check the local building codes for requirements (if any) in your area such as footing and material requirements, etc.  If you want to attach the deck to your house, and are a first time builder, you will need a contractor to help you do this correctly and in accordance with local requirements to prevent any problems in the future.  I will cover only an 8 foot by 10 foot free standing deck at this time. 

Some common terms:

Rim Joists:  the heavier support lumber around the outside of the deck

Joists: the large boards inside the rim joists to support decking.  These are normally the same size as the rim joists.

A number with ‘ behind means feet. 

A number with “ behind it means inches.  So 7’0” means 7 feet and 0 inches.

Crowning:  Sighting down the narrow edges of a board (very few are perfectly straight) and marking the area that is high in the center of the board.

The first step is to pick up the materials from your local builders supply.  They will be able to give you a material list based on the size of deck you are building. The material list should include two 8’ and five 10’ boards to be used as joists.   Deck piers will work in most applications and are easy to work with.  Once you have your piers, lumber, nails or screws (recommended) you can get ready to get your hands dirty and have some fun.  Screws are a little harder to install than a nail but they will not loosen up over time causing the deck to wobble.   Piers are a concrete pillar 8 to 10 inches tall and larger on the bottom with cutouts in the top to accept your joists in two directions, 90 degrees from each other.  You can get by with as few as 6 of these, but they determine how solid your deck is when you walk on it.  My suggestion is to use 12 of these inexpensive items and you will not regret the additional cost.  Set four piers at the corners of your deck in a rough square.  If you want it is aligned with your house you can measure from the wall of your house to two pillars and adjust them until they are parallel with your house.  Cut two joists 10 feet long and two 7 foot 10 inches long. These are called the rim joists.  They should be at least a treated 2 x 6.   Remember to crown all the joists.  Place them in the top of your corner piers making sure the 10 foot boards are on the inside of the 7’10” joists.  Screw through the  7’10” boards into the 10 foot boards making sure to use at least three screws that are at least 3 inches long.  These corners you just made should set in the piers securely.  Next, using your level, starting at the lowest corner and working around the perimeter, adjust the piers by removing soil from beneath them until all sides are level.  Keep checking and rechecking during this process.  After you have leveled the entire perimeter, you must check the square of your frame.  To do this, measure between opposite corners in an ‘X’ pattern. These measurements need to be equal.  If one leg of the ‘X’ is longer, slide it toward the short side in small increments until both measurements are equal.  Remember to check for level as you do this step.

When both cross measurements are equal, the frame is square.  Now place 2 pillars underneath the long sides spaced evenly between the corners and place 1 pillar underneath the center of the short side.  If needed, adjust the soil underneath the new pillars to insure the sides remain level and are resting firmly on all piers.  This brings the total piers to 10.  The remaining two piers will be placed inside the center in line with the short and long sides.  The center joist will rest on these piers.

To lay out the spacing for the cross joists, start from one corner on the short side, using the following measurements, mark both long sides.  22 ¾ “, 46 ¾ “, 70 ¾ “ .  Use a “<” at these measurements to insure accuracy.  These marks will be the edge of the board closest to the end you began measuring from.  Cut 3 joists 10’0” or 120”.  Using the marks you made earlier, screw the 3 joists to the rim joists using at least three 3” screws in each end.  Make sure the screws are tight and boards fit together snuggly.  The middle joist should rest on the center piers making sure there is no play between these joists and the piers.  Once all joists are secure, walk on them and check for bounce between them and the piers.  Make any adjustments necessary so there is no play between the joists and piers.  This completes the foundation for your deck.

Now that we have the foundation completed you can start installing the decking.  A one inch overhang will give your deck a professional look.  Starting at on end of your deck, lay one of the 8’ deck boards down and measure both ends and exposed edge to achieve 1 inch overhang on the three sides.  Using the screws you purchased for the deck boards, attach them securely.  Be sure to install screws along the edge of the frame and each joist.  The number of screws you use at each joist is determined by the size of your deck board.  The home supply store can advise you on how many screws to use when attaching your decking.  Lay another deck board down, align one end with the same end of the previous board and attach it at each joist.  Spacing between the deck boards will be determined by the type of decking boards you are using.  Once again your home center can advise you on this.  Continue laying and screwing down your deck boards until all deck boards have been attached.  The last one may need to be trimmed to accomplish the one inch overhang.  By aligning the same end of all boards, the opposite edge may appear crooked.   Trim the crooked edge straight with your saw.  You have completed your 8 ft by 10 ft deck.  Congratulations, you now have a deck you can enjoy for a long time to come.