The deck is finished!
It took just a little longer than I was hoping, but I got it 90% finished over the weekend, with just another 4-6 hours over Monday and Tuesday to finish it up. There are still a couple small things outstanding, but the deck is otherwise complete. But before we get there, let’s pick back up where we left off.
After solving the complications presented by joining up the new deck platform to the old severely sloped small landing, we were ready for the decking! And this is where it started to feel like a real deck. I moved the 5/4″ deck boards (in 16′ lengths) up onto the joists and at least I could finally walk around on top of the deck without having to do a circus act across the joists.
I started by attaching the first board all the way out at the end of the deck furthest from the house. I overhung it by 3/4″ or so over the band board at the front of the deck and then measured back to the house to ensure it was perfectly parallel to the house — or as best as possible with a back wall of the house that ain’t square itself. I didn’t do the best job measuring the space to ensure the last board would sit up against the house but we’ll get to that later.
With the first board in place, it was all just a laborious matter of rinse and repeat all the way across the surface of the deck.
After my great experience on the front porch with it (the story of which I’ve never shared on here, I realized) and seeing it in use on some other decks, I used the Kreg deck jig for the decking. For those of you familiar with Kreg’s pocket-hole jigs or others, they do a great job of finding ingenious solutions to carpentry problems. The deck jig allows you to put the screws in the perfect spot at the perfect angle on the side of the deck boards so the top surface is completely unmarred by screw or nail holes. They’re hidden in the sides.
I can’t recommend this thing enough.
You simply use the provided drill bit set to the proper depth with a collar, and then move it along the deck board and pre-drill holes at the joists. And then you can either use the jig again (with a second drill works best) to drive the screws into the holes. I opt to just drive the screws in without the jig — the holes are easy to find and it’s easy enough to hit the right depth and trying to get the screws and the bit into the holes on the jig is just way too time-consuming.
After doing a few boards, I got a pretty good rhythm of drilling all the holes all the way down to one end, and then coming all the way back to do the holes on the other side. I grabbed Rachel’s gardening cushion to save my knees, which were getting bruised and rubbed raw pretty quick.
With the holes all pre-drilled on each board, then I’d fasten that board in place.
I used Kreg’s screws since I was making a big Amazon order anyway, but you can use GRK or Deckmate or whatever fasteners you prefer, as long as they have the small profile head since they’re meant to go slightly below the board surface. I used Deckmates on the front porch.
The jig comes with some spacers to space the boards out properly, but in my experience, the smallest ones are waaaaay too wide for pressure treated deck boards that are almost certainly going to shrink significantly as they dry out. Instead, I use 10d nails to space the boards out only slightly. And rather than losing nails all day long that drop between the boards or trying to pry them out after you set a board, I recommend driving two or three into a short length of wood. Then you can drop it in and easily pull it out afterward.
And lastly, I could not have done the job without this amazing board-bending tool to keep the boards straight and help wrest the warped boards into a straight line.
You hook it over a joist and then use leverage to bend the board into place while you screw it down, helping you put even the most crooked, warped board onto the deck in a straight line.
As I started fastening the boards in place, I got a really good rhythm down (after usually starting by attaching the ends of each board.)
I’d drop in the spacer board 2-3 joists to my left (working right to left), attach the board-bender to my left, bend it into place, hold it with my knee or foot and put a screw in on the opposite side of me to push it into place. I found the board-bender to be useful for even just holding a straight board in place against the spacer while screwing it.
In this next photo, you can see the spacer board in place to my left, and I’m holding the board bender in place with my hand and dropping the screw in at the same time.
Oh, and there’s the blue Kreg jig to the left in the photo above waiting to help drill the holes in the next deck board. After a solid 2-3 hours of this on Sunday, by late in the day I had all the deck boards in place, which really makes the deck feel like it’s nearly done.
Well, almost all the deck boards. I ended up with a little bit of wonky space by the house I’ll have to fill. Didn’t quite get my measurements right to either set the last full deck board against the house, or leave the bulk of a board space so the ripping would be easier. I’ll still have to rip a tiny piece to fit in there all the way along the house.
But I did go ahead and drop a bead of silicone in there just to be sure no water can get in between that piece of PVC trim and the concrete slab below it, helping rain to run off to the ground. Our house is a little different than most, and if your ledger board is actually attached to a wood joist inside the house or breaking the outer seal of the house, you’ll need to do more flashing and waterproofing that we don’t have to do. But this will ensure that no water can get in the small seam on top of the concrete slab.
After the decking was in, I snapped a chalk line down the end of the boards that were overhanging on the side and then trimmed them all to a 1/2″ overhang or so with the circular saw. No need to pre-cut your deck boards, and this way you can ensure they’re all lined up perfectly.
With the decking done, the only thing remaining was the railing, and though I made some progress on Sunday night before the end of the weekend, I ultimately had to finish it Monday and Tuesday. Attempting to finish this entire deck in a weekend was probably insane, but possibly do-able if I hadn’t had to spend so long on Saturday with the joist issue on the old deck.
But late Sunday I got all the railing posts measured and cut. After using used the jigsaw to cut out spaces for them in the decking where the decking overlaps the rim joist or band board below, I screwed all seven 4x4s into place to hold them temporarily until they could be bolted in.
I leveled the posts out on both sides, and then attached the 2x4s to hold them there until I could bolt them to the deck joists underneath. In addition to keeping the railing posts from moving out of level until I could bolt them in place, the 2x4s will ultimately hold up the top flat railing and provide the contact point for the balusters.
After daydreaming about finishing the deck all day at work on Monday, I raced home at 5:30 and immediately started working so we’d have a railing safe enough to let the kids outside on it. I first used three pieces of 5/4 decking to do the top flat portion of the railing. It simply lays on top of the 4×4 posts and the top 2×4 that’s level with the top of those posts. Miter the corners to line them up and then screw it in.
For the balusters, after determining the spacing (4″ on center), I slid an extended tape measure back and forth across the gap between each railing post to see where the first/last piece would be and leave equivalent space on either end between the first/last baluster and the railing post.
Lily came out and helped me by handing me screws to pre-drive into each baluster, making it far easier to fasten them once I’m holding them in place.
And Jackson watched from the safety of the window.
I marked a spot every four inches across the space in the railing and then attached the bottom of the first baluster on the mark. I used the level to line that first one up before driving the top screw into the 2×4. And then I ripped a small piece of wood to use as a spacer which made things go very fast after that. Hold the spacer next to the last baluster, shove next baluster up against it, drive top screw. Repeat down at the bottom over and over again.
There’s the block that I used. Shown after the fact since we didn’t take any pictures of the balusters going in, apparently. But you get the idea.
Unfortunately I underestimated in my lumber order and ran out of spindles on Monday night. D’oh!
So early Tuesday morning before work, I ran up to Galliher & Huguely to pick up another 20 balusters and some bolts, and then finished installing the last of the balusters and bolting the railing 4x4s to the deck.
I used lag screws (left) only on the corner posts where there was no space on the inside for carriage bolts due to the rim joist and band board. Everywhere else I used 1/2″ carriage bolts with washers/nuts on the back (right) to attach the seven railing posts fast to the deck.
And to attach each joist to the crossbeam, I used simple hurricane ties down below on each joist.
With the railing finished and bolted into place, the deck was finally finished.
By my rough count, it took me about 30 hours of solo labor, not including two Home Depot trips, one Galliher & Huguely trip, and the day of labor for a contractor to install the 6×6 posts and the ledger board for me.
We finished it just in time for beautiful weather to arrive Tuesday afternoon, and the kids and I broke the seal and had dinner out there by ourselves that night while Rachel was at an event downtown.
I can say that this was one of the more ambitious projects I’ve undertaken in the five-plus years of working on this house. As I told Rachel, a little bit of confidence breeds more confidence, and all the little and medium and bigger successful projects got me to a point where I had no real trepidation about tackling something so big. I knew I could ask other folks for answers, I could find tons of information online, and I’d eventually find my way through it.
I’m really pleased with how it turned out and can’t wait to enjoy the lovely Spring weather coming up out on the new back deck. I moved the baby gate out to the deck so I can let Jackson roam out there without fear of tumbling down the stairs.
And now, a bunch of photos, closing with the usual before/after of the back of the house with the new deck.
Here at the transition to the stairs, you can see that the old railing was not quite high enough. The new railing is at least 6-10″ higher.
Here I am moving the backyard lights temporarily out of the way last night with a PVC pipe attached to the railing, until we can decide where to put them more permanently.
And lastly, the before and after shots. This first photo is from back before we really got started on the enormous backyard project.
And September 2010 (during our inspection) vs. July 2011 vs now. (Watch how ashy and grey the stairs go in just five years from 2011-16. This is why we’re going to paint the new deck probably in the Fall sometime.)
I built a deck!!!
The back deck expansion