Step 1: Overview
This deck isn't huge—about
16 ft. wide x 18 ft. deep plus
bays and stairs—but it's big
on features. The upper deck
is just the right size for
entertaining small groups—spacious
but intimate. It has cantilevered nooks
on both sides that provide space for
seating and barbecue storage. The
pergola shades the upper deck and the
home's interior from the sun, and it
offers a space for hanging or climbing
plants. The lower deck is a great place
to hang out in the sun, while the cascading
stairs flow into the yard and
provide lots of space for planters and
This deck has some out-of-the-ordinary
construction details that
contribute to its unique look. For
starters, the deck joists run parallel to
the house and overhang the beams to
form the cantilevered bays on both
sides. Rather than a bolted-on ledger
board, special “long-tail” joist hangers
support the deck at the house. The
deck material is also unusual. It's a
low-maintenance composite material
with a tongue-and-groove shape that allows you to hide the fasteners by driving
them through the tongues.
The rail system combines horizontal
boards for privacy and an open design of
copper plumbing tubes at the top, allowing
you to see out easily. These unusual details
make the deck a bit harder to build, so you'll
have to follow the photos and drawings
carefully to get everything to fit. If you have
some carpentry experience, you shouldn't
have any trouble building this deck. It's a big
project, though, and will probably take you
and a helper about two solid weeks to complete.
You don't need any special tools,
although a power miter saw speeds up the
Step 2: Plan ahead—you may have to special-order a few items
You'll find treated lumber, cedar boards and
many of the metal fasteners at your local
home center or full-service lumberyard.
You'll may have to special-order the tongue-and-groove composite
decking (we used a type called “Geodeck”), the 6x6 posts and
the special “long-tail” beam hangers. Make sure to use joist hangers labeled
G-185. These have extra zinc coating to prevent
corrosion caused by the chemicals in
treated wood. Expect to spend around $7,000
on materials for this deck.
Before you order materials, submit a deck
plan to your local building department.
Include details for the footings, attachment
to the house, steps and handrails, and brand
of composite decking. Some of the details
we show may not be acceptable in your area.
A few days before you plan to dig the footings,
call to have underground utilities in
the vicinity of the deck located and marked
(call 811). Then follow Photos 1 – 21
and Figures A – F to build the deck, rail and
A complete Materials List is available as a pdf in Additional Information below.
Figure B: Framing Elevation
Figures A, B and C show the construction details of the deck with a cutaway view, framing elevation and framing plan. Use this plan or adapt it to your own site.
Step 3: Locate the footing holes accurately with string lines
Start by driving two stakes along the house,
centered on the outside beams. Drive nails
into these stakes to mark the center of the
beams. Next stake out two sets of batter
boards about 1 ft. outside the perimeter of
the deck (Photo 1). The top of the horizontal boards should be close to level with the
top of the stakes near the house. Finally,
stretch strings between the stakes and batter
boards and square them to the house.
Use the 6-8-10 triangle method to establish
lines that are perpendicular to the house
(Photo 1). Measure 6 ft. along the house
then 8 ft. out from the house and mark the
string. Then measure between the 6-ft. and
8-ft. marks and move the end of the string
line along the batter board until the distance
is exactly 10 ft. (Photo 1). Double-check
your entire string setup by measuring diagonally
from corner to corner as in Photo 4.
Adjust the lines until the diagonal measurements
After marking the footing locations, dig
the holes to the depth required. Make the
holes at least 12 in. in diameter to allow
room for slightly adjusting the position of
the 6x6 treated posts. After your building
inspector has approved the excavation, pour
an 8-in.-deep concrete pad in the bottom of
each hole (Photo 2).
Step 4: You don't need a bolted-on ledger board for this deck
The beams are supported by 6x6 posts and
are connected to the house by special “longtail”
beam hangers (Photo 3). The details of
installing flashing and attaching these hangers
to your house may differ from what we
show, but a successful installation hinges on
two key points. After you cut away the siding,
slide the flashing under the siding and
the existing building paper to make sure it
sheds water. And second, nail the hangers
into solid wood or consult your building
inspector for the correct way to fasten the
hangers to concrete, brick or block if necessary.
Use 16d common hot-dipped
galvanized or stainless steel nails to attach
the hanger to the house and to the beams.
Measure carefully to make sure the hangers
are the correct distance down from the top
of the deck surface and that they're level
with each other (Photo 3).
After the beam hangers have been
attached to the house, the next step is to
construct the beams and install them on
temporary supports. Since the tongue-and-groove decking boards fit tight together,
without space for water to run through,
slope the deck about 2 in. away from the
house for drainage. Do this by leveling the
beams and marking the temporary 2x4 supports.
Then measure down 2 in. and make
another set of marks. Line up the beams
with the lower marks. Tie all three beams
together with a 2x10 across the front. Then
square and brace the beams (Photo 4).
With the beams in place, it's easy to measure
for the posts. Just cut them a little long
and drop them into the holes (Photo 5).
Place the uncut factory end of the post
down for the best rot resistance. Then mark
the post at the bottom of the joist and cut
each post at the marks. Connect the posts to
the beams with metal post-to-beam anchors
(Photo 7). Double-check that the beam
assembly is square. Then fill the holes with
the soil you removed, packing it as you go.
Step 5: Adding joists is a snap
Prepare for installing the joists by marking
their positions on the top of the beams.
Study Figures A and C for help in positioning
the joists that overhang the beams. They
overlap in the center and require additional
blocking at the overhang to line up
correctly. Cut the joists and tack them to the
beams. Check that the overhanging sections
are square to the main deck. Also sight
down the front joist and outside joists of the
overhanging sections to make sure they're
straight. When you're confident everything's
square and straight, fasten the joists to the
beams with hurricane ties (Photo 6).
The joists for the lower deck section fit
inside the beams, rather than run overtop. Build the beams and support them on posts
just as you did for the upper section (Photo
7). Then cut the joists to fit inside and attach
them with metal joist hangers and
galvanized joist hanger nails (Photo 8). Add
a row of blocking down the center to
increase stiffness. The extra joists and
blocking on the front of both the upper and
the lower sections are needed to support the
deck board that forms the stair nosing
(Photo 8 and Figure C).
Step 6: Use full-width and continuous-length deck boards
To avoid having to rip the deck boards
lengthwise and expose the hollow inside, we
planned the deck framing to accommodate
full-width boards. Adjust your framing
dimensions if you use a different-width
deck board. With careful planning, you'll
have 1-1/2-in. overhangs.
The horizontal 1x6s in the railing cover
the hollow ends of the deck boards. We left a
1/2-in. space between the deck boards and
rail to allow water and debris to escape.
Photo 9 shows how to get started
installing the decking. Precutting and laying
out the boards without nailing them gives
you a chance to double-check your framing
and make sure the first 12-ft. long deck
board is straight and has the proper
overhang. You'll have to drive nails through
the top face of the first board (Photo 9). Nail the remaining deck boards through
their tongues into each joist (Photo 10).
We used 2-1/2-in. stainless steel ring-shank
siding nails, but 2-1/2-in. hot-dipped galvanized
nails will also work.
Sight down the first full-length board to
make sure it's perfectly straight. It's difficult
to correct problems later. Leave the ends of
the boards long and use a straight board as a
guide to cut them later (Photo 11).
Along the edge of the lower platform and
at the stairs, use square-edged rather than
tongue-and-groove decking (Photo 11
inset and Photo 19). Photo 19 shows how
to cut and nail the stair nosings and border
pieces. Face-nail these boards.
Step 7: Take your time crafting the posts; they're full of tricky details
The rail system starts with posts that are
notched 1-1/2 in. to fit around the joists and
drilled to accept the 1-in. copper tubing.
The trickiest part about making the posts is
keeping track of the orientation of the
notches and holes. Here's a tip. Cut the posts
to length and distribute them to their locations
on the deck. Move from one to the
next, marking the notches and holes. Then
move them to your sawhorses for cutting
and drilling (Photo 12).
We used manufactured 6x6 posts for the
trellis. They won't split and twist like
regular 6x6s and are almost perfectly
straight. The hollow interior makes it easier
to cut and notch these posts. Standard 6x6s will also work.
Double-check measurements before
cutting. You don't want to goof up on these
Notch the decking for the posts (Photo
12). Then drive 3/8-in. x 4-in. lag screws
through predrilled 3/8-in. clearance holes to
secure the posts. Use a tubing cutter to cut
the copper tubing and install it along with
the posts. Don't forget to cut, drill and center
the two short pieces of 2x4 cedar that
support the top railing and copper tubes on
each cantilevered section.
Fitting the 1x6 lower rail cap is challenging,
since it's notched around each post and
mitered at the corners. The key is to mark
boards in place whenever possible. See
“Marking and Cutting the Lower Rail Cap,” below.
Even though the cap fits between the
posts at about 21 in. above the deck, mark
the notches at deck level. This will ensure
that the posts will be parallel to each other
when the caps are screwed in.
Figure D: Pergola Post and Figure E: Deck Railing
Follow the detail drawings in Figures D and E when constructing the posts and railings.
Marking and Cutting the Lower Rail Cap
- Cut the 1x6 lower rail caps,
allowing extra length. Mark the
post locations. Then use a speed
square to mark the 3-1/2-in.-deep
notches at these locations. Saw
out the notches for the posts.
- Mark the intersection of the
two tails. Make another mark
on each cap where they intersect at
the post. Connect the marks and
cut the angle with a power miter
saw or circular saw.
- Lap the cut piece overtop and
mark the angle on the lower
piece. Cut this angle and check
Step 8: Install the horizontal 1x6s
Start at the top and work down, using
5/8-in. blocks to maintain even spaces
between boards. Cut the end of the 1x6s
square and overlap them at the outside corners.
Plan the overlaps so the butt ends of
the boards are facing the sides of the deck
where they're less conspicuous. Measure
down to the decking at opposite ends before
nailing each row to keep the boards parallel
to the decking. The lower boards hide the
treated framing. Cover the ends of the
boards near the stairs by wrapping the
boards and 4x4 posts with 1x6s (Photo 17
and Figure E). You'll have to rip and notch
the 1x6 boards to fit.
Step 9: You don't need to cut complicated stringers for these stairs
Rather than notch 2x12s to make traditional
stair stringers, we chose to build and stack
platforms. This method requires more lumber
but eliminates complicated layout work.
If the top surface of your deck is 42-1/2 in.
above the ground, you can build the two sets
of steps exactly as shown in Figure A.
Otherwise you'll have to adjust the rise or change the number of steps to fit your situation.
To simplify the design process, draw
the entire stair system actual size on a large
piece of cardboard (Figure F). It takes an
hour or so but helps prevent mistakes.
Codes vary slightly, so check with your
building inspector before constructing the
stairs. In general, plan for a rise (distance
from the top of one tread to the top of the
next tread) of between 6 and 7-1/2 in. and a
tread about 10 in. (11 in. with the nosing).
Finish the stairs with 1x8 riser boards,
ripped to fit, and treads (Photo 19). On
sloping lots, you can regrade the lawn a little
to make the lowest rise more consistent.
Figure F: Stair Elevation
Figure F: Stair Elevation
Use platforms instead of stringers to construct the steps.
Step 10: Set beams on the notched 6x6 posts and add 2x4s to complete the pergola
To avoid having to special-order 22-ft.-long
beam material, simply splice shorter pieces
as we show (Photos 20 and 21). A single
2x12 has enough strength. The second 2x12
simply improves the appearance. Start by
arranging the 16-ft. 2x12s for the best grain
and color match at the splices. Then lay out
and cut one tail (Figure A) and use it as a
pattern to mark and cut the three remaining
tails. Use 2-1/2-in. deck screws to connect
the beams to the notched 6x6 posts. Install
the first layer (Photo 20). Then nail the
second layer to the first with 2-1/2-in.-galvanized
casing nails. Complete the lattice by
screwing the 12-ft. 2x4s to the beams
Back to Top
Step 11: Finish the wood parts of your deck to protect and preserve them
We applied clear exterior oil finish for the most
natural look. The drawbacks to clear
finishes like this is that they don't protect
against graying as well as finishes with more
pigment and they must be reapplied annually.
In general, the more pigment, or color, a
deck finish has, the greater protection it
The copper tubing will age
naturally to a mellow bronze color,
and after many years may turn
green. We accelerated the process
by thoroughly cleaning the copper
with steel wool, and then applying
copper aging solution according
to the manufacturer's instructions.
You can find copper aging solution
at antiques stores, paint stores
and hobby shops. Gun bluing
solution will also work.