My back yard deck project

The deck

I chose redwood for the decking because I am familiar with how it goes together and didn’t want to mess with composite decking. I like the look of redwood, and it is a biodegradable material. Oh, and redwood looks good with our landscape plan. Our plan is difficult to describe, it’s kind of a mixture of different styles. A little Zen garden, a little alpine mountain stream, and a little steampunk. Zen-punk? Zen-ish Alpine punk? If anyone has a way to describe it please let me know.

The deck was a real challenge, mostly due to the curvy nature of the design. To minimize long cuts along the grain I made the deck at 45 degree angles going into the curves. Oh, and our property is sloped so some of the deck required steps to reach the ground. Angles, Curves, and stairs, oh my! What have I gotten myself into?

Of course the first step in any construction project (after the design) is putting in all the crap that goes under the deck in first.

Landscape Plan Deck

Drainage pipes for the down spouts needed to be dug in and moved away from the foundation. I had to wait until the irrigation system was complete. Then I had to establish a slope for rain water to run off. After everything was ready I finally got to place concrete piers and install the foundation.

The foundation is a critical factor in any construction project. One of the challenges I faced was creating a level deck. The deck is connected to our existing 8’ x 20’ concrete patio. Of course the patio is not level. This was on purpose to allow for drainage of water away from the house, but this is not necessary for a redwood deck. So I had to be creative with the transitions. I also needed to tie in the steps from the master bedroom door which is at a different elevation than the main patio and eight feet away from the patio. Ugh. After a few hours dicking around with levels, string lines, stakes, and such, I managed to get a plan together.

The next step was anchoring a header board to the concrete patio. I used ½” concrete anchors and a redwood 2×8 to wrap the entire concrete patio. This gave me a good anchor point for the rest of the foundation. Drilling into concrete at a 90 degree angle was a jarring experience; it’s also a good work out for the abs. I used a special wood/concrete adhesive in addition to ½” concrete anchors.

Next up is figuring out how to describe a nice flowing arch so I could tell where to end the foundation. I tried all kinds of ways to draw a flowing arc, including using a garden hose, rope, a dozen stakes, paint, etc., nothing seemed to work out smoothly. What I needed was something long and straight that I could gently bend into a flowing curve. I ended up using sprinkler pipe. I bought some ¾” thin walled PVC pipe and some couplings. After gluing four sections together I ended up with a 40’ long somewhat floppy guide for the deck curve. Then I bent it into shape and used stakes and screws to anchor the 40’ snake into position. This technique also worked very well for marking the final deck boards.

Deck 5

I decided to run the deck boards at a 45 degree angle for the main portion of the deck, and then switch to 90 degrees for the decks at either end. At first I thought this decision would create a lot of scrap, but as long as the 45 degree cuts were accurate I could use the cut piece for the smaller sections. Due to the length of boards I still needed to buy some different lengths to minimize the scrap. So I bought a mixture of 8’, 10’, 12’, and 14’ foot boards. If I needed two boards 6 foot long I cut a 12’ in half, and so on.

The last step was to trim off the excess deck boards to form the curve. On the long sloping curve I used a circular saw with the blade set to 1 ½”. This allowed me to gently curve the cut. The curve for the fire pit area was too tight for this technique, so I used a jig saw. Once the cut was done I install a facia board over the ends. It turned out that Lowes had some nice redwood trim 1 ½” by ½” that would bend around the larger radius curves. I then used some large head black screws to hold it in place. Of course with such thin material I pre-drilled all the holes. The curve by the fire pit was too tight for a facia board. So I got out my router and installed a quarter round bit to take off the sharp edge and then sanded the face for a nice appearance.

Deck 6

As with all projects I learned a lot in the process. So I thought I would share what I learned for wood be deck builders. (Misspelling intended.)

When you’re at the lumber yard and the redwood rack is half full, most of what is left is crap. It’s been picked over by others, only knotty and warped wood is left behind. I ask the employees for some new wood, and they were happy to bring down a new pallet. So I got to pick then nicest pieces and left half a pallet of crap for the next guy. I have no idea what happens to all the crap boards left over.

• Get star drive screws rather than Philips. They run much easier into the wood and won’t grind off the head on a stubborn screw. Also buy a magnetic holder for the star drive, it helps hold the screw. If I did this earlier I would not have nasty bruises on my fingertips.

• Use metal framing brackets rather than angling in long screws. It seems much more secure.

• Find a friend with carpentry skills and a pick-up truck. Lars and his truck were invaluable, and his help is greatly appreciated.

• Hearing protection is a must when using power tools. The hammer drill and circular saw were especially noisy. Oh, and be kind to the neighbours. I didn’t start work until 9am and generally quit before 8pm, I didn’t want to be one of “Those guys” You know who you are. My back fence neighbour has a smaller back yard than I do and insists on using a gas powered weed whacker at 8pm. Lead by example I say.

• Buying a cheap hammer drill is less expensive than renting one. Also adding another tool is never a bad thing.

• When your wife says “Are you sure that’s enough” when buying anything at Lowes, listen to her. I can’t tell you how many trips I made to Lowes that could have been avoided if I only listened.

• Take lots of breaks and give up when you’re too tired to go on. I probably spent three hours re-doing what I did the previous day during the last hour. I have a tendency to keep going past what is considered a reasonable amount of work.

• Get a landscape designer to go over your plan. They do a great job integrating ideas into something workable. We also got a wonderful plan drawn to scale. This alone was worth the price.


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