7 Deck Building Tips

Techniques for building decks, stairs and railings

Make your deck building go faster with these seven clever tips from the pros. It’s tricks like these that allow professional to build a deck quickly and accurately.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine







Step 1: Simplify joist hanging

The easiest method for running deck joists, especially when you're working alone, is to attach joist hangers to the ledger board before installing your joists. The trick is to set them at the right height. Take a few minutes to tack together the jig shown here.

Cut the 2x4 to the average width of the joists (sometimes the joists will vary in width as much as 1/4 in.). Nail both sides of the hanger flanges to the ledger, leaving one side with about a 1/16-in. gap so a wet joist can slide into place. As you set your joists, chisel out a notch on the bottom if the joist sits too high or shim it if it's too low.

Joist Hanger Jig

Build this jig to make joist hanging simpler.

Build this jig to ensure the correct joist height.

Step 2: Accurate notching

The most accurate way to cut a deck board around a post is to lay it in position against the post and transfer the post location directly onto it. When measuring for the depth of the notch, check both sides of the post. Oftentimes there's a twist in the post and the measurements aren't equal. Cut out the notch with a jigsaw.

Video: How to Build Deck Stairs

Step 3: Space balusters with a jig

Carpenters love to use jigs because they make work easier and faster. Here's a simple jig that comes in handy for building rail sections It centers the baluster on 3-1/2 in. wide rails and sets the space between them typically 4 in. or less. When you attach the balusters, always start in the center so the leftover space on each end is equal. Measure the total length in advance and either start with a baluster in the exact center or with an opening centered —whichever makes the space between the last baluster and the post come closest to your 4-in. maximum baluster opening.

Baluster Jig

Build this jig to ensure correct baluster spacing.

Build this nifty jig from scrap pieces to speed up the railing
construction of your deck.

Step 4: Hanging stronger stair stringers

Of the half-dozen deck stair hanging methods I've tried for 2x8 framing, this method works the best. Cut the 2x12 stringers extra long and secure them to blocking between the joists or to the joists themselves if they run parallel to the stringers. If possible, set your stair rise to 7-1/4 in. and tread to 11 in. (two 2x6s). Always leave a minimum of 3-1/2 in. of wood perpendicular to the back of the stringer and the deepest cutout.

Step 5: Straighten a bowed deck board

No matter how good your lumber supplier, a good share of your decking is sure to be bowed. Straightening bowed boards is a routine part of deck construction.

Step 6: Trim deck boards dead straight

Beauty is in the details. Using a board to guide your saw as you trim your decking leaves an edge crisper than the steadiest hand can make. Set your guide board up as shown. If you use a 2x2 like we did, sight down it from one end to make sure you get it perfectly straight. You'll have to cut the last two boards off freehand. Mark the entire cut with a chalk line and keep your saw going in a straight, steady motion.

Step 7: Craft a beveled post cap

Placing a cap over your rail posts not only looks good but also protects the vulnerable end grain of the post from the weather. Caps for 6x6s usually must be special-ordered, but you can make your own from 2x10 material and save the wait and money. This jig is made from 16-in. pieces of 2x8 framing and 1/2-in. plywood (see illustration). Setting the plywood guide on the jig to your circular saw requires some trial and error. Adjust it so the blade leaves a slight reveal on the top of the cap. Secure the cap to the posts with construction adhesive and 3-in. galvanized finish nails.

Beveling Jig

Build this jig to ensure accurate cutting for post caps.

Use this jig to cut all your post caps and add a professional look
to your deck railing.

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Cordless drill
  • Tape measure
  • Circular saw
  • Combination square
  • Framing square
  • Jigsaw
  • Stair gauge
  • Straightedge
  • Safety glasses
  • Sawhorses

3/4-in. wood chisel

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

  • Wood scraps for jigs

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