Deck Building Tips
The first thing to know is that a power washer is not a magic wand. The best way to clean a deck is to approach it more like the un-glorious kitchen sink dish than like an industrial, power tool-based operation.
Soak the lumber with a type of detergent that cleans what’s on it. Some detergents are formulated for mold and mildew, others for dirt. For projects where you want to brighten the wood or strip an existing finish, check the detergent.
I make the ‘doing the dishes’ connection not to be drab but to keep it simple and inexpensive. You wash your car with a sponge, right? I soak a deck, then scrub it with a deck brush, then rinse it.
Here’s where the pressure washer comes in. You have been advised: A pressure washer is for rinsing. Detergent does the cleaning, just like a greasy dish in your sink. For rinsing, keep the pressure low and the nozzle at a low angle to the work.
Hyde’s pivoting pressure-washer wand gets that done for me effectively.
It is a common DIY deck mistake to cut individual deck boards to length. What pros do is cut the first two or three to length—some carpenters leave 1/4-in. overhang—then run the remaining deck boards long. Once they’re all installed, snap a line from the first board to the last and then cut all the boards at once with a circular saw.
For pressure-treated lumber, I mainly use ground contact-rated Southern Yellow Pine. For decking I prefer 2×6. And when I install that decking, I butt the boards tight to each other and fasten.
For kiln-dried lumber like Western Red Cedar, I gap the boards so they can expand in high moisture situations. All it takes is sticking a 16-penny nail in a few joists to create the standoff.
Rings up or rings down?
There’s a deck-building debate that’s more lore than science. In fact, when I built my first decks (they were docks) I was taught to install deck boards with the annual ring cupping down. The idea was that the deck board—if it cupped at all—it would cup in the direction of the grain. Annual ring down, it sheds water. Up, it holds water.
Well, this is fiction. Install the best looking side facing up and move on. Use ring-shank nails or screws to fasten. The reason deck boards move is because they do so naturally and because they dry at different rates on the top (in the sun) and the bottom (in the shade).
One thing I recommend is to finish deck boards on the bottom before installation to help them shed water easily.
I prefer to get deck packages delivered and dropped at the project site. It’s easier, faster, and I have to manage boards fewer times.
For the delivery, I always have a few 2-bys or (gulp) pallets for the load to land on. Better to break a pallet than a driveway.
For managing the boards to the back of the house, where they most often go, hand-carrying 2-bys is usually how I do it. But for 6×6—if I can fit into the back yard—I much prefer using a wheelbarrow with the timbers across it perpendicularly.
I love to get my children involved in my projects. Within reason. Lexi and I had a great time building this deck. She helped me with the hardware I used on it and we got to—safely—goof around and do cool stuff together. I treasure it too, because she turned 15, and the recycling bin is cooler than me now.
Laying out the guard post height on a stair, if you’ve never done it, can be a Herculean effort in understanding angles. But if you know the ‘stacked 2×4 and framing square trick’ you can do everything from scribing angles to back-mitering the rails to marking your post for a code-compliant height, all without knowing a single angle.
I’m abbreviating this a little, but…Run a 2×4 on edge along the stair nosings. Place another one on top of it. Run it past the posts a few inches top and bottom. Screw or clamp the second board to the post. Mark the back side of the 2×4 along the posts. Also, mark its location on the post. This is your stair angle and your overall length.
Next, position the framing square atop the 2×4 with its long edge over the post. At the top of the framing square blade, run your pencil. This is the top of the guard posts. Cut both posts in place.
To cut the rails, bevel your circ saw or miter saw 45-degrees and make this a back-mitered compound cut for a tight look. Install. Cut the posts in place. Install both rails, then install a 2×6 top cap.