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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!
Back to Top
Step 9: Make your own concrete caps
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