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How to Build a Deck - an illustrated, step-by-step guide

Updated on July 17, 2011

Planning your Deck

You have purchased your home, designed your interior, and now your do-it-yourself eyes are focused on the backyard. You are trying to decide exactly what you are going to need to give it just the right touch. You know you want a deck, but what else would you like to have on it?

Before you begin, you need to decide what you are going to be doing outdoors and what purpose it will serve. Like many people, you will probably want to have outdoor barbecues, parties, something special so you can have friends and company over to enjoy.

Free Wood Working Plans - Outdoor plans for deck furniture

Tools of the Trade
Tools of the Trade

First make a list of everything you want outdoors on your deck. Some examples of what can go on a deck are:

• Barbecue

• Outdoor fireplace

Tables and chairs

• Flowers and greenery

• Jacuzzi

This is a very important decision as it will be the basis on how large or small your deck will need to be and especially the cost.

To begin, gather up a list of magazines. Many libraries have magazines which have been given to them or on display to read. Pick them up or make copies for ideas. It will give you a basis for the types of material to use, lighting features that you want, as well as a selection of railings for you to choose and patio furniture you like.

Do-it-yourself books abound with how to build a deck so you can connect the dots using those and any plans you find. Some things you would like to use will may need to be changed to handle the building codes for your locations.

Another great way to get ideas is to turn on the television to find the newest fad for home improvement.

Take a look at where you live as well. Building materials that are purchased, manufactured or grown locally will save you considerable amounts of money. Anytime you have to send away for something unique or out of the ordinary, you will be spending more money.

Once you have developed your vision, you will be finally ready to make the plans for your deck. If you can find some blueprints already done it will save you time and money but as mentioned earlier you will need to get them up to code for your locations.

Computer programs are readily available for you to draft your plans yourself. However, if you do not have previous knowledge, it could be daunting for the anyone unfamiliar with computers.

Local codes

Before beginning your actual work, please consult with your local building inspector. Many areas around the country will ask to have the blueprints and design approved before they will give you a permit to begin erecting your deck.

Some of the information the building inspector will desire will be:

• Size of the deck

• How high off the ground it will be

• Where it is to be placed in regards to the property boundaries.

• The size and general area of the framing

• Type of materials being used

• Type of soil you have on your property

• Manner of placing the frame together

Expect to pay a fee once your plans meet building code and local laws. You will need to place the permit on site during construction of your deck.

Some areas may need to have an inspector come out and inspect your site personally to make sure you are conforming to the local laws. These are not surprise inspections but will be schedule with you beforehand.

Because these first few steps tend to require some skill, you may want to pay for a contractor to get to through the pouring of the concrete in the yard before you work on the framing.

Where to place the deck footings

To begin this part of building the deck, you will need batter boards, string, and a calculator.

Begin by taking two 1 x 4 stakes about 30" long; you will attach them together using another 20" 1 x 4. You will need two batter boards for each corner of deck you are building.

About three feet away from your footing marks, you will hammer the batter boards firmly into the ground using a sledgehammer. Using the string lines, you will then score the area exactly where you want your footings to be.

Next, mark the batter board where you want the midpoint of each post. Using one of the strings and a nail, tie the end of the string to the opposite batter board forming a grid. Where the strings intersect marks the center of each post.

To make sure you have done this correctly, the strings for the post centers should be 90 degrees to the ledger.

Double check your work by measuring the diagonal corners and if the measurements are all the same, then you have a square.

Using a plumb bob at each point where the srings intersect find the point on the ground exactly directly below. This is the center of each post.

Placing the footings

Time to get dirty! You know where you want the footings and now it is time to set the footings into the ground.

Check with the building inspector regarding the minimum depth you can place the footings for frost protection. This varies by location.

Dig out the soil using a backhoe. From your plans, you should know the dimensions of the footings. Replace the strings on the batter boards and find the center point of your footings in the excavated hole and center your footings on that point.

Reinforcement bars and a "sonnet tube" will form the remainder of the footings and add strength to them as well.

Now before you begin pouring permanent concrete on your yard, make sure the building inspector has approved it and gave you the thumbs up. It makes sense to get your concrete from a plant and be ready to go when they arrive. As the concrete will set very quickly, make sure your tools are lined up before they get there. You will need to have shovels, screeds, and make sure the post saddles are good to go into the concrete before it sets.

Once the concrete has set for a day, fill the soil around the footings using a back hoe as necessary. Be careful not to damage the footing by hitting the sides of it.

What is a ledger board and what is it used for?

The ledger board is the board used to fix the deck to the house. It is the first piece of wood laid so it is very important to be properly lined up. Normally the ledger board measures 2 x 10.

Measure twice, cut once

This old carpenter's rule applies doubly for the do-it-yourselfers. Make sure you get correct measurements on everything before you begin. To get the correct location of the ledger board to the house, make sure you have your blueprints or plan handy and consult with them often. First, find out the height of the finished deck to the main floor of the house. Then you need to measure from the main floor down to the ground on the outside of your home. Using a chalk line, make a series of marks by snapping the line. This will show you where the top of the ledger board needs to be.

Once you have determined the vertical position, you need to begin with the horizontal positions of the deck. Using your plans, line up the deck properly in relation to your wall. Make the center of the deck using the chalk line and measurements from your drawn up plan. Mark half the width of the deck on both sides of this center.

Once you have the width and height laid out properly, you can attach the ledger board.

Preparing your ledger board

Once you have done your preparation work, you can affix your ledger board. However, there are a couple of things you need to remember. One is to make sure that the ledge board is fastened tightly to the framing of your home. Also, no matter what you do, the house will need to stay watertight against the weather.

Make sure to do your due diligence and check the basement or crawl space in the rim joist and stud cavities. You want to make sure that your work on your deck is not going to interfere with your actual home services in these areas, like electricity and plumbing.

Wood and stucco siding are two of the best sidings to work with when you are trying to keep a watertight seal on the house. When working with vinyl siding, the siding itself will need to be taken off to get to the sheeting below.

Now, cut and measure the ledger board length. It should be 3" shorter than the width of the deck. That is about the thickness of two rim joists. By using this measurement, the rim joists can then be nailed into the ends of the ledger board.

Next, you will nail 3/8" spacer strips about every sixteen inches. This will keep the ledger itself away from the side of the house so the water can still drain. You will not need this step if you have vinyl siding.

Attaching the ledger board to the home

Using 3 1/2" framing nails, place the ledger board on the marks you made and hammer them in place. A few of these will do to hold the ledger board in place so you can drill for the 3/8" lags bolts. You will need to drill every two feet alternating upper and lower part of the ledger board. Then using the lag bolts, bolt the ledger board to the wall of the house and tighten each bolt until the washer is flush starts to bite into the ledger board.

Securing the Deck Beam to the Footing
Securing the Deck Beam to the Footing

Begin with the deck posts

You have completed the foundation for your deck and attached the ledger board to the house. Now you will begin framing your deck. The posts for your deck are commonly 2 x 4's; however, if your deck is large or if you will be having many people out on it, you will probably need 2 x 6's. If you are using wood instead of composite material, please make sure it is treated against rotting or use cedar.

Square out one end of each post. This is the piece that will be sitting in the post saddles you placed in the concrete. If you are using wood, treat the end you cut off in the squaring process with some preservative to be on the safe side.

Stand them up in the saddles. Plumb the posts first before securing them into the saddles and hammer them in place with a 3 ½" framing nail. Use a level to make the posts plumb and support them with a 2 x 4 and a stake. Continue with the rest of the posts being sure they are in line to the first. Brace them in place.

After the posts are set, you can cut them down to the height you need. You would use both a level (8' level is nice) and a straight 2 x 4 to transfer the level from post to post. This will mark the top of the joists, so the marks have to be lowered down first by the depth of the joists and then by the depth of the beam. For example, in this case we are using 9 ½" for the joists and another 9 ½" for the depth of the beam itself. Mark the posts and transfer to all four sides of the post by use of a framing square.

Finally, a circular saw can be used to trim all the posts to the height needed and finish with a hand saw.

Onto the beams!

Putting up the deck beams

You will be building the beams from two 2 x 10's nailed together. Before you begin, you will need to look down each 2 x 10 to see which way the wood bows, this is the crown of the wood. Usually it's just one way and make sure that the crown faces up.

Square off one end of the 2 x 10 and measure the final length. Square it where the mark is and make sure to cut it to the right length. Hammer the beams together every 16" with three 3 ½" framing nails.

Using a post anchor, you will need to secure the beam to your post. Use the correct anchor for the size of posts and beams.

Next set up the deck joists.

Floor Joists Installed
Floor Joists Installed

Time to place the deck joists

You will need to know where the perimeter of your deck is. Starting with the rim joists, these are the two end joists and fix to the ends of the ledger board and stretch out across the beam.

Hammer and nail in one rim joist to the end of the ledger board. Make sure the crown is up. Place the free end of the rim joist flush with the end of the beam and then repeat this for the next rim joist.

Measure twice and cut the header joist to the same length as your beam. Hammer the free end of this to the rim joists. The four main boards should all be in place - the ledger board, two rim joists, and header joists. Make sure the framing is squared as before using diagonal corners.

Lay out the joist spacing

Measure out on both the header joist and the ledger board 16" on center. Use a framing square to make sure you are square.

To handle the joists, the ledger board needs to have joist hangers. A short scrap of material is great as a guide for the hoist hanger. You will place this on the marks and using hanger nails to place the joist hanger.

Eyeball each joist to make sure you get the crown of the board up. Mark the direction with a pencil on the joist itself. Measure and cut the joist lengths. A reminder is that the length of the joists will be about 1 ½" shorter than the rim joists themselves.

Put a joist into each joist hanger. The tops of the joist need to be flush with the top of the ledger board. Use the hanger nails to secure joist into the hanger. This is one of the items the building inspector will normally look for to make sure there are nails in each hanger.

Once all the joists are in the hanger, nail the header joist to lock up the free end all the remaining joists. General rule of thumb is to use one 3 1/3" framing nail for each 2" of joist depth. An example on a 2 x 10 would mean you would need five nails.

Nail the joists to the beam with a 3 ½" framing nails on the sides of the beam. In the center of the floor will you need to add a row of blocking to strengthen the floor. Any span over 7'6" will need to have center blocking. This is simply a piece of 2 x 10 nailed between the joists midspan.

Joists that are 16" on center will need approximately 14 ½" long blocking. Chalk a line in the middle of the joists and add the blocking in the base between joists. Once again, hammer the joists into the blocking.

Onto the decking

Installing the Decking
Installing the Decking
Premium Grade Decking
Premium Grade Decking

Adding the decking

First Board

The pattern for your decking is determined by the first board. You will begin with the board next to the house.

Place it tight against the house and measure to the outside of the rim joist from the board. Adjust it until it is parallel to the rim joist. Keep the first plank away from the siding (about 1/8") to help water drain off.

With two 2" deck screws fasten the first deck board to every joist. If you pre-drill the screw holes at the end of the board, you will be able to prevent splitting of the board.

Lay out the rest of the deck by staggering the joints of the boards. You can trim the boards later so it is fine if they stick out over the end of the deck.

Space the boards 1/8" apart and tap a framing nail into three or four of the joists on the lprevious deck board. When the next board is placed, the nails will give you the space you need and once again use two 2" deck screws to secure the board to the joists.

If you measure the gap between the header joist and the deck boards as you place the boards you can correct any problems before you fasten in the last board. The last board is fastened like the others.

Use a chalk line on the deck with the outside of the joists and trim the deck with a circular saw so it is flush against the frame.

That is all you need for the deck.


This is a basic guide for creating a back yard deck. It is intended to familiarize yourself with the steps and processes involved. It is important to have a completed plan before getting started and think through the process. This way you can anticipate any problems that may arise.

If you have a large deck planned it may be a good idea to hire a contractor to perform some of the layout tasks or at least work with you as a consultant. This way you can avoid all the problems that may arise with a complex structure.

If you are completely new to construction it is advisible to start with a very basic square deck. If you have some experience then you can proceed within you scope of knowledge. Either way it is a good idea to talk with a contractor to avoid and problems.

Good luck with your deck.



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    • FeliciaM profile image


      8 years ago from Canada

      Very informative!! Thanks for the help!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      These have given me a somewhat guide to follow when hiring a crew and to know what questions to ask and what to like for.. I was curious about stone decks and how that works. And also their pretty straight forward decks, but what if you have a peculiar problem like a crawl hole to build around, are ideas if you want to save the tree that might be in the way.. also extreme weather, it rains allot like here in Oregon vs. sunny weather in Arizona or California, Thank You

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Great guide,always make sure the timber is pre-treated,if it's not treat it to ensure long live of the framing.

      Seal the decking with a clear coat sealer upon completion.

      I know people who have left their decking for years without staining it,if it has no sealer it will just dry right out and get damaged.

      My site is if you'd like more advise lmk.

    • abczyxone profile image


      9 years ago from Township

      Shanel you are right it is very informative. Keep up the work

    • shanel profile image


      9 years ago from Seattle

      This is a very thorough set of instructions for building a deck. Will be testing them out on my new front porch as soon as the weather is agreeable. Thanks!

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Wow- you definitely know what you're doing! Thanks for the information- I need to have my deck re-done. Great information- you make it seem so easy! :) For jacuzzi bathtubs,

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 

      11 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      Nice deck. I will be coming back to your hub in the spring. The lumber is sitting in the yard but the winter just came too fast.

      regards Zsuzsy


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