Lay your first board along a chalk line
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Keep an eye on things
Set the first board along a chalk line to start straight. Then sight
down the boards occasionally to make sure they're staying straight.
If they're not, vary the size of the gap between boards gradually over
a few rows as needed to straighten them.
Measure an equal distance in from each end of the
deck, allowing for an overhang (if desired), and snap
a chalk line as a guide for the first row of decking.
Align the first row with the chalk line and nail or
screw the boards to the joists. Then use spacers at
each joist to keep the gap between boards consistent
and to keep the boards running straight. Sixteen-penny
nails are about the right size for spacing deck
boards. But sight down your boards occasionally as
well. You can easily spot when a board is off.
Straighten crooked boards with a chisel, clamp or nail
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Start nails into the deck board. Drive a 3/4-in. wood
chisel into the joist and tight to the edge
of the deck board with the bevel facing you.
Pull back on the chisel until the deck board is tight
to your spacer and drive the nails.
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Straighten a crooked board by slipping a pipe clamp across the
end and gradually tightening it as you add nails. This only works
if you're letting the ends of the boards run long and cutting them
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Drive a toenail
into the edge of
the board for an
extra boost. A few
extra whacks will
nudge the board
Most deck boards are relatively straight and easy to
lay, but there are always a few that need a little extra
coaxing. Start on one end of bent boards and
straighten them as you nail or screw them to each consecutive
joist. Position the board so it bends away
from installed decking. Then pull or push the bent
end against the spacers as you work down the length
of the board. Occasionally you'll run into boards that
are too crooked to bend easily by hand. The photos
here show three of our favorite tricks for
straightening these stubborn boards.
Plan ahead for the last board
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Measure to the house at both
ends and in the center when you
get within about 5 ft. of the wall.
Adjust the spacing gradually over
the next 10 rows of decking until
the distance to the house is equal.
The last board won't look good if it's
skinny or cut at an angle. In most
cases, it's best to start with a full
board on the outside edge of the
deck and work toward the house so
the odd board is less visible. Then
measure when you're 4 to 5 ft. away
from the house and adjust the gap
sizes to be sure the last board is a
Predrill screws and blunt nailheads to prevent splitting
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Drill pilot holes for screws at board ends so the wood
doesn't split later. Start the holes about 1/2 in. from the end
of the board.
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Blunt nail tips
Blunt the tip of a nail with your hammer to help avoid splits. The nail will punch through the wood rather than wedging it apart.
Screws are notorious for splitting deck
boards. They tend to push the wood fibers
apart rather than tear through them like nails. Even boards that
look good initially can get little “cat's-eye” splits later as the
wood dries. If you plan to use screws, try these solutions. Look
for screws with self-drilling points. This type of screw does a
pretty good job of drilling through rather than splitting the
wood. Even with drill-point screws, I'd recommend predrilling
the ends of boards, which are prone to splitting. If you're
willing to devote the time, you'll find that predrilling decking
for all of the screws will result in a top-notch job with zero
splitting. For best results, choose a bit size that allows the
screw threads to slide through the hole without catching.
Even nails can cause splitting, especially near the ends of
boards. Avoid this problem by predrilling a hole the size of the
nail shank. Another trick is to blunt the tip of the nail with your
hammer before pounding it in. “Splitless” ring-shank nails
work well but can bend and break, especially near knots.
Cut the ends all at once for a crisp, straight edge
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Trim boards after nailing them
Snap the cutting line on the deck. Then measure from the edge of your saw blade
to the edge of your saw’s base. Mark that distance from the line and screw down
a straight board. Run the saw's base against the straightedge to cut the deck
boards perfectly straight.
Cutting the ends of deck boards as
you go not only takes longer, but it's
harder to get a crisp, straight line. A
better approach is to let the deck
boards run wild as shown in the
photo. Then screw a straight board
to the deck as a saw guide and cut all
the boards at once. Since you can't
saw right up to a wall or other
obstruction, make sure to precut
these boards to the right length first.
Even if I'm using a straightedge guide,
I like to snap a chalk line as an extra
precaution. That way, if the guide is
positioned incorrectly, you'll notice
the mistake before it's too late. Screw
down both ends of your straightedge
after marking the decking. Then
measure the distance from the line to
the straightedge in the center to make
sure it's the same as the end measurements.
If necessary, bend the guide
board until the measurement is the
same and screw down the center. Run
your saw along the straightedge to
cut off the boards.
Tip: Sight down and
joists before nailing deck
boards to them.
Avoid ugly hammer marks
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Start the nail. Then slip a small square of
1/4-in. plywood over the nail and swing
away. Remove the plywood for the last blow.
Nails are easier to drive if you take a full swing.
But the downside is that if you miss the nailhead,
you'll leave a deep “elephant track” in the
decking. Use a 1/4-in. plywood cushion to
protect the deck boards in case you miss
with a hammer. It allows you to concentrate
on nailing without worrying about denting the