Step 1: Overview
This small deck comes
with big, eye-catching
make it seem twice
the size. We combined
traditional decking with a
natural-looking stone wall to limit
foot traffic and get full use of the
space for relaxation. The stone wall
is set at a perfect bench height, so
you have plenty of built-in seating.
In addition, the manufactured stone
veneer has the massive look of a
solid stone wall but is much lighter
and easier to build with. The wall
looks great, needs almost no maintenance
and will last for decades.
We'll show you a foolproof way
to lay out and construct this
ground-level deck, and simple steps
for preparing and installing manufactured
This deck project is great for both
intermediate and advanced do-it-yourselfers,
since it requires only
basic skills with hand and power
tools. But you will need help lifting
the heavy wall caps into place.
Allow three or four full weekends
for you and a helper to complete it.
Our deck has two platforms that
connect to doors on different levels
and provide for a gradual transition
down to the yard. The main
deck is about 14 ft. square and the
second is slightly more than 8 x 9
You'll need basic carpentry, concrete
and masonry tools to build
this project. You probably have the
carpentry tools: circular saw, drill,
hammer and level, and the concrete
and masonry tools (Photos 10 –
19) are relatively inexpensive. Finally, round up a
posthole digger, a shovel and a
Figure A: Deck Frame Dimensions and Materials
Draw out your plan in detail (or modify ours) and
make a list of your lumber and other materials. Then
shop at a full-service lumberyard and plan to have it
all delivered. This will allow you to concentrate on
building the deck rather than running to get the next
load of materials. The framing is .40 pressure-treated
wood and the decking is cedar.
Manufactured stone comes in a variety of colors
and styles, ranging from random fieldstone to
rectangular-cut slate. The stone we selected
has the look of weathered limestone. The stone is
actually lightweight concrete poured in molds cast
from real rocks. It's durable even in harsh climates
and made to last for more than 30 years. Buy it from
brick and stone suppliers.
Buy your mortar from your stone supplier as well.
It'll carry the stuff the pros use. These mortars tend to
be more workable than varieties found at home centers
and will give you consistent results.
Before you have any materials delivered, submit
your plans to the local building department. The
stone wall adds considerable weight, so if your plan
varies from ours, hire an architect or structural engineer
to calculate footing locations and sizes. The inspector will check the strength of
the framing and issue a permit. It's not uncommon
for an inspector to make minor changes in a plan, so
be prepared to adjust your lumber order if need be.
A printable Materials List for the deck shown here is available in Additional Information below.
Step 2: Set the ledger to get things started
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Photo 1: Remove the siding
Pry off the exterior siding. (Cut it to fit later.) Then
cut the 2x10 ledger board to length and align it with a
level chalk line about 3 in. below the door sill. Tack it in
place with 16d galvanized box nails.
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Figure B: Ledger Detail
Use joist hangers and deck flashing for a longer-lasting deck.
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Photo 2: Drive lag bolts between hangers
Mark the joist positions according to your plan. Then predrill
3/8-in. holes for the 1/2-in. lag screws. Lag-screw the ledger board to
the house, using two screws between each joist. Slip the deck flashing
in place. Align each joist hanger with a joist scrap, and fasten one side
with 16d galvanized nails. Purchase special joist hangers for the ends that
have the flanges turned in.
The first step in constructing our
deck was to cut the siding away
from the house and fasten the
ledger board (Photo 1). Cutting
into your house might make you a
little nervous. But if you follow our
tips and measure carefully, you
won't ruin anything.
Position the top of the deck about
1-1/2 in. below the threshold to
keep snow and water out of the
house. Snap a level line on your
siding 1/2 in. above that height for
siding clearance. Then measure and
mark the ends of the ledger according
to your plan. If your siding is
wood, set your circular saw to the
depth of the siding and cut the top
and sides. Then pry the siding off. If
you have vinyl or aluminum siding,
you may be able to cut it off with
several strokes of a utility knife, or
use a circular saw with a plywood
blade. Another alternative is to simply
remove a section of siding (as
we did), cut it and replace it later,
replacing the bottom and side
channels as needed.
If you have brick, stucco or block
walls, you can skip this step and
hang the ledger board directly
against the face of the masonry.
Select straight 2x10s for the
ledger and outer beam. Cut them to length, then lay them side by side
and, following the plan, mark the
joist locations using a tape measure
and square (Fig. A). Place an “X” on the side of
the line where the joist will sit.
Lag-screw the ledger board to the
house rim joist (Photos 1 and 2).
Check local codes if you're fastening
into concrete or brick. Be sure to slip a piece of deck
flashing, available in 10-ft. lengths
from your lumberyard, on top of
the ledger board and under the siding.
(Some pros like to slip it under
the building felt as well.) You may
have to pull or cut a few nails to slip
the flashing in place. Overlap additional
lengths 2 in. and seal the seam
with silicone caulk.
Call 811, the national one-call number for underground utilities, and have the
utility lines marked
before you dig the holes.
Step 3: How to pour 'dead-on' footings
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Photo 3: Assemble the frame
Cut and temporarily tack the
outer frame of the deck together
with 16d galvanized nails. Level
the frame, using blocking to support it.
Next, square the frame by shifting the
outer edge side to side until the diagonal
measurements are equal.
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Photo 4: Locate the footings
Mark your footing locations, using the deck
frame to accurately position them. Paint a
cross with spray paint. Extend the cross
beyond the diameter of the footing so you can
easily keep the hole aligned as you dig.
Disassemble the frame and dig your footings.
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Photo 5: Pour the concrete
Insert forming tubes into the footing holes, then reposition
the deck frame, again leveling and squaring it. Tack one side of
the mudsill anchors to the frame. Slide the forming tubes up to
the bottom of the frame and screw them to a pair of temporary 1x4s to
hold them in place. Fill the tubes with concrete, smooth the tops and
let the concrete harden overnight. Check the frame for level the following
morning (the concrete may shrink slightly as it cures), shim if necessary
to level, and double the beams where required. Then permanently
fasten the mudsill anchors to the frame with joist hanger nails.
Misplaced footings are the most
common mistake in deck construction.
Use the method shown in Photos 3 and 4 and you'll get exact
footing placement on your first try.
This deck has only six footings, so
you can dig them using a manual
posthole digger. If you have more,
consider renting a gas-powered
auger. Dig them to the size
approved on your plan and to the
frost depth in your region (Fig. C).
In most regions, the building
inspector will want to measure the
depth and width of your holes
before you fill them.
Before pouring concrete,
reassemble the deck frame and
attach the anchors (Photo 5). If you
feel confident in your concrete finishing
skills, go ahead and order a
truckload of concrete and pour the
footings and wall caps at the same
time. For our footings and caps, we
ordered 1-3/4 cu. yds. of concrete,
allowing about 10 percent extra for
comfort. The pace is fast when you have a truck on site. Be sure to have
at least two extra people to help.
If you're a little unsure of your
finishing skills, mix bagged concrete
for the caps and footings. It's more
work, but it will allow you to move
at a more relaxed pace.
When you pour the concrete into
the footing holes, work it in with a
stick or the handle of a shovel to fill
any voids. Then, using a trowel,
strike off the top even with the
bottom of the framing.
Figure C: Footing and Wall Framing
This cutaway details the wall construction from the footing to the cap.
Note: P.T. means pressure-treated.
Step 4: Framing goes fast
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Photo 6: Add the joists
Cut and install the 2x10 joists, sliding them into
the joist hangers. Drive 1-1/4 in. galvanized joist
hanger nails into the joists and 16d galvanized
box nails into the ledger, filling all the nail holes in the
hangers. Nail blocking between the joists with 16d galvanized
nails, alternating between the sides formed by a
chalk line snapped across the center line of the deck.
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Figure D: Framing and Step Details
Use this cutaway view to clarify the framing details.
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Photo 7: Build knee walls
according to the
plan using 16d galvanized
Sheathe the outside
with 1/2-in. treated
plywood, securing it
every 8 in. with 8d
galvanized box nails.
Snap chalk lines on
the plywood at
every stud to make
sure your nails hit
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Photo 8: Fasten the knee wall
plumb them, shimming
under the bottom
plate as needed.
Nail the bottom
plate to the deck
framing every 16 in.
with 16d nails.
Nail the overhanging
plywood into the
deck framing with
8d nails. Then nail
the inside plywood
sheathing to the
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Figure E: Knee Wall Framing
The plywood makes the wall rigid.
With the layout complete and the
concrete set, the framing goes fast.
Cut all your joists to length and slip
each into the hangers (Photo 6). Label any bow (crown) with
an arrow pointing up. When
you install the joist, always set
the crown up.
Check that the top sits flush with the
beam and ledger. If you have to, slip
a treated shim between the hanger
and the joist to raise it, or knock a
little off the bottom with a chisel to
lower it. Blocking (Photo 6) stiffens a deck that has long joist spans.
It's now time for your framing
You'll see the terrace effect take
shape as you construct the knee
walls (Photos 7 and 8). Using a circular
saw, cut your 2x6 studs 18 in.
long. Measure for the length of the
plates directly off the deck frame,
not by referring to your plan. Nail
the studs every 16 in. between the
plates with 16d galvanized nails.
Then attach the plywood, using the
factory-cut edge to square up the
walls, and tip them up (Photos 7
Step 5: Prep the walls with a solid mortar base
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Photo 9: Staple felt
Staple No. 30 asphalt-impregnated
felt to all the wall surfaces. Then
install metal lath horizontally with
the cup of the extrusion aiming upward.
Nail it every 8 in. with 1-1/4 in. galvanized
roofing nails, wrapping the corners a minimum
of 12 in. and overlapping each sheet
a minimum of 4 in.
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Figure F: Stone Wall Details
Cover the plywood wall with felt, wire lath and mortar.
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Photo 10: Spread mortar on lath
to the directions on
the sack and scoop it
onto a hawk. Hold the
hawk against the wall,
and slide the mortar
onto the wall with a
steel trowel. Firmly
press the mortar into the
lath, completely covering
it by a good 1/8 in.
Work fast. Have a helper
mix mortar while you
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Figure G: Hawk
Make your own hawk for the project with scrap pieces of plywood an d lumber.
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Photo 11: Scratch the mortar
the mortar with a
rake (or scarifier)
while the mortar is
First staple No. 30 asphalt felt to the
plywood and wrap it over the top.
It goes on a lot faster if two people
work together, one unrolling as the
other staples. Overlap any joints by
at least 6 in.
Nail up galvanized mesh next
(Photo 9). Be sure to wear heavy
gloves to protect your hands—this
stuff is sharp. Cut it with regular
metal-cutting shears. Some types of
wire mesh have little bumps on the
back every 8 in. or so to space the
mesh away from the wall (Photo 9).
Put the bumps against the wall.
Mix up the mortar and apply it to
the wall. Wear gloves and goggles
to protect your skin from the caustic
cement. Mix the mortar two or
three bags at a time in a wheelbarrow
with a short, flat-nosed shovel
or a hoe. Add water slowly to the
dry mix until it reaches the consistency
of whipped cream. Then mix
it aggressively for five minutes. Let
it rest for a few minutes before you
start applying it to the wall. Test the
consistency by drawing the shovel
back and forth in the mix. It should
have a creamy texture yet still hold
its shape when you spread it onto
the wall (Photo 10). You'll know immediately if the consistency is
right. If the mortar is too wet, it'll
drip all over the place and fall off
the trowel. If it's too dry, it will be
difficult to press into the mesh and
it'll peel off as you slide the trowel
across it. Add mortar mix or water
Apply the mortar quickly. A
helper is crucial to keep a fresh supply
mixed and ready to go. Keep the
wheelbarrow out of the direct sun to
prevent the mortar from drying out.
The next step is to “scratch” horizontal
grooves into the mortar
(Photo 11) after it firms up slightly.
Use a special tool called a “scarifier”
that's available at stores
that specialize in masonry tools, or
simply a steel-tined garden rake.
The important thing is to set horizontal
grooves to provide a good
Cover the mortar scratch coat
with plastic and let it harden and
dry for two days before applying
Step 6: Apply the decking while the mortar cures
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Photo 12: Nail the deck
Install the decking. Drive two 16d galvanized casing nails
through the 2x6 decking into each joist. Set the nails slightly
below the surface with a nail set. Start at the step of the lower
deck, work toward the house, then align the boards of the upper deck to
the lower and work away from the house. Straighten bowed boards by
drawing them toward you with a chisel driven into the joist. Then nail,
using a nail for a spacer between boards.
We selected 2x6 cedar decking for
this project for its natural look, but
you could also use one of the
plastic/wood composites for extra
durability. Start by attaching the
riser trim to the lower step (Fig. D) then the 2x8 tread to the top
on the lower platform. A 1-1/4-in.
overhang on the tread creates a
shadow line, making an attractive
step. Then work in toward the
house, spacing the 2x6 boards with
the casing nails. Put the best-looking
side face up. Start with a good,
straight board and align the others
with it. To straighten a bowed
board, lay it with the arc against the
installed one. Nail one end and
work to the other, prying the board
straight with a chisel as you go
As you get within 3 ft. of a wall,
measure the remaining distance to
see if it's equal on both ends. If
not, stretch your spacing slightly
between the boards to make the last
board at the house (and at the stone
wall) even. You'll probably have to
rip (cut the long way) the last board
Apply the riser trim to the upper
step and nail on the 2x8 tread
(Photo 12). Then lay the first board
against the house, ripping it to the
width of the final board on the
lower deck to make the decking
line up. Butt the ends of the deck
boards up tight to the treads, but
leave the other ends about 1 in.
from the knee walls so water and
debris can fall through. The stone will cover this gap once installed.
When you're done decking, place
cardboard over the surface to protect
it from scratches and mortar
stains while you're working with
Step 7: Watch our pro set stone
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Photo 13: Snap reference lines
Snap level chalk lines
on the walls every 6 in.
as rough guidelines.
Apply the stone, starting with the
bottom corners and working your way
up and out, staying in a stair-step
shape. Spread a pile of stones nearby
to provide a wide selection.
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Photo 14: Back butter
on the back. Press
the mortar into the
pores of the stone
as you draw the
trowel toward you,
drawing off the
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Photo 15: Spread mortar on the back
onto the buttered
evenly spread a
1/2- to 3/4-in. layer,
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Photo 16: Set the stone
into place, giving it
a wiggle to seat it
against the wall.
Tap the stone with
the handle of the
trowel for slight
about a 1/2-in. gap
Using the point of
the trowel, clean
away excess mortar
that oozes out into
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Photo 17: Cut stone to length
with a hand-held
with a diamond-tipped
or tile blade (or a circular saw with a diamond blade).
Firmly hold the
stone on plywood
with your fingers
well away from
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Photo 18: Fill the mortar joints
joints, filling them
completely, using a
grout bag. Start
from the top and
work your way
down. Twist the
bag slightly with
one hand as you
squeeze with the
other hand to force
the mortar out of
the bag. Let the
mortar set long
enough to hold a
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Photo 19: Rake the joints
back about 1/4 in.
from the face of the
stone with a 3/8-in.
Then brush loose,
away with a whisk
Applying the stone is the most
creative and enjoyable part of the
project. It's half art and half technique.
First snap level chalk lines
6 in. apart on the face of the walls,
measuring up from the bottom of
the wall (Photo 13). Use these lines
as a guide, not an absolute reference,
to keep the stones level as you
work. Next spread a generous
amount of stone out on scrap plywood
to keep it clean and dry.
Select stones from different boxes
to get a feel for the various shapes,
sizes and colors you'll be working
with. Start at the bottom of an outside
corner first and apply the special
corner stones. Work your way
toward the top in a pyramid fashion
(Photos 13 and 16). In the last 12 to
18 in., search for three or four
stones that will end flush with the
top, by dry-fitting them in place
(without mortar). As you select a
stone, always think about how the
next one or two pieces will fit. Try
to fit as many pieces as possible
without cutting. It's a bit of a puzzle.
You can cut stone if you have
to, but it's dusty, it slows down the
work, and the cut edge doesn't look
quite as natural as the cast edge.
To cut the stone, use a hand-held
grinder with a diamond blade
(Photo 17). Hold the stone in place
and mark it, allowing 1/2 in. on
each side for the joint spacing. Then
make your cut with the face of the
stone up. Wear a dust mask and
hearing protection while you cut.
Adhering the stone is a three-step
process (Photos 14 – 16). First you
“parge” the stone (press mortar
into the back of the piece), then
apply a second layer evenly across
the back and finally, press the stone
Be sure the scratch coat is dry
before you apply the stone. The
stone must also be dry, so protect it
from moisture. Don't even consider
installing it on a wet or drizzly day.
TIP: Add about a quarter of a
shovel of Portland cement to
three bags of mortar mix to
richen it up a little. This is our
pro's secret, for your eyes only!
Keep the mortar at a stiff whipping
cream consistency. As you
work, it will dry out, so add a little
water now and then to keep it workable.
Throw out leftover mortar after
a half hour and mix a fresh batch.
Begin on the least conspicuous
wall first to get the hang of it. Step
back from the wall occasionally to be
sure the colors blend well and the
shapes and sizes are spread evenly
throughout the wall. Resist the temptation
to put the stone in rows all the
same width. Break rows up fairly
often with a larger piece. Stagger
your vertical joints. Aim for about
1/2-in. joint spacing, but don't get
obsessed with individual pieces.
When you set the stones on the
inside walls, keep them 1/4 in. off
the deck surface to allow for airflow
and to prevent rot.
With the stones set, finish the
joints by grouting (Photo 18). Use a
grout bag to fill the joints with
mortar, like squeezing frosting from
a pastry bag. If the bag you're using has a
metal tip inside, remove it. The
tip tends to clog with mortar.
Mix the grouting mortar a bit
more moist than you did for setting
stone. Fill the bag using your trowel
and give it a test squeeze. The mortar
should be thick but flow rather
than clog up. It takes some effort to
force the mortar out of the bag. Your
forearms will feel the strain after a
while. Work quickly. If you drip
mortar on the stone, let it dry before you brush it away. If you wipe it
now, it'll smear and stain the stone.
In 15 to 60 minutes, the mortar
should stiffen to “thumbprint” hard
(a thumb barely leaves a print when
you press into it). Then rake away
the excess with a pointing trowel
(Photo 19). When raked, it should
fall away as moist crumbs. After you
rake a few square feet, lightly brush
away any excess with a whisk
broom. If the mortar smears, let it
Step 8: Setting the caps
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Photo 20: Position the caps
Set the concrete caps in
a bed of mortar on top of
the wall. Tap them down
to make the tops even. Rake away the
excess mortar with your pointing trowel.
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Figure H: Cap joint detail
Fill joints with mortar, then top off with urethane caulk.
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Figure J: Concrete Cap Dimensions
Position the caps evenly, with 3/8-in. gaps between the caps.
Lift the caps into place (Photo 20).
These caps are heavy, so work carefully.
Clean the work site to avoid
tripping, and lift with your legs, not
your back. Check for level, and then
if necessary, wiggle on one end or
the other as you press down to level
the cap. Immediately check to make
sure your overhang is even on all
sides. The mortar grabs pretty fast,
so work quickly. As you work, sight
down the wall to make sure the caps
are straight. Give each cap a 3/8-in.
gap and later fill it with mortar to
3/8 in. from the top (Fig. H). After the mortar dries, fill the remaining
gap with a gray urethane caulk to
form a watertight seal.
All that's left is to put a quality
sealer on the decking to protect it.
Bring on the furniture, then sit back
and enjoy a well-deserved break!
Step 9: Make your own concrete caps
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A: Concrete cap mold
Cut the 2x4s to length and screw the ends together
with 3-in. drywall screws. Toe-screw (screw at an
angle) the sides to the 3/4-in. plywood base every
12 in. with 1-5/8-in. screws. Cut the 3/8-in. rebar to length
with a circular saw and a metal-cutting blade.
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B: Add concrete
Fill the forms
drop in the rebar, then
finish filling the forms.
Work the concrete into
the corners and sides
with the blade of the
shovel as you go.
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C: Level and compact the concrete
Level the excess concrete
flush with the top of
the form, then hit the
sides of the form sharply with a
hammer to eliminate air pockets.
Quickly smooth it with two or
three swipes of a magnesium
trowel. Let the concrete set until
any water that rises to the surface
disappears and the concrete
is “thumbprint” stiff. Then tool
the edges with an edging tool to
round them over. Finally, smooth
the surface with a steel trowel.
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D: Remove the forms
Unscrew one side of
the form when the concrete
stiffens. This may
take as little as 30 minutes or as
long as three hours. If the concrete
holds its shape (doesn't
sag), smooth the side with a
steel trowel, filling in any voids
left in the concrete. If the concrete
slumps, put the form back
in place and let it set longer.
Otherwise, remove the 2x4
forms and smooth all sides.
Let the concrete set for a week.
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E: Cut the bottom
Turn the caps over and score a
groove in the bottom 1 in. from
the edge and about 1/4 in. deep
to help water drip off. Use a circular
saw and a masonry blade.
make special capstones
for topping off these
walls, but for a smooth,
more durable finish, we
your own concrete
caps. Here's how.
Cut and assemble the
forms according to the sizes in Fig. J. When designing your own caps, limit
lengths to about 3 ft. (150 lbs.!) Beyond that
they get too heavy to carry safely. Screw
together everything so you can remove the
Follow Steps A – E. The biggest mistake
is to tool the concrete too soon, before the
water that comes to the surface has time to
Here are a few more tips to help your
concrete work go smoothly:
- Wear rubber gloves, goggles, long pants
and a long-sleeve shirt to protect
- Wet the forms before pouring
- Place the forms on a flat, level surface.
Wet concrete will lie level when you settle
the mix with a hammer (Photo C).
- Protect the fresh concrete from rain and
- Pour the concrete in the morning. The
lower temperatures will prevent the
concrete from setting too fast and give
you more finishing time.
- Let the caps set for at least a week