Our first big project: The Deck of Dreams

After 7 weeks, 3,000 lbs of lumber, 2,000+ fancy screws,  670+ nails, and 80+ hours of effort, we have a big, beautiful deck!

Note: If you see big blank spots in this post, it’s probably not loading the giant GIFs. Hit shift+F5 or shift+F9 to refresh!

Advice: Always make sure to use good deck sealant (thank you, Jaidev, for the advice!)

Deck Progression

TL;DR
Used fancy tools to plan out our backyard deck. Sawing through 35 boards as a last step is extremely satisfying.

Fancy Tools

Not your average set of fancy tools for building a deck…

CAMO fancy screw system thingamajig (+~$100)

This little do-hickey spaces out deck boards and precisely guides screws in at an angle so that they’re nearly invisible! No stubbed toes on screw heads and I do get comments on having no visible screws on the deck. Worth $100? Probably.

camoToolsFancy precision screw doodad hides away screw holes. Can you spot them in the picture on the left?

Deck Builder on TimberTown USA (free!)

DeckPlans

deckCAD

More on this lumber yard and their other helpful stuff below, but one tool that saved me a lot of headaches was an inline & free 3D CAD tool to help build a virtual deck. In theory, at the end you click Order and you’ll get exactly what you need to build a deck. In reality, this proved to be a really good starting point for the discussion with the guys at Timbertown USA.

Not bad, huh?! It’s pretty cool that the end product looks so similar to what I made in a free online tool in 30 min..

Microsoft Surface 3 & OneNote ($780 & $0)

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a bit of a gadgeteer, but in this case the gadget really proved helpful throughout the process. I used OneNote for everything related to this project. I kept my pictures and notes in there. My father-in-law showed me how to use mason line by drawing it directly in OneNote. I put together the project budget in excel and embedded it into the note. At one point I had to change the deck frame plan and I did that by simply drawing over a picture. Whenever I needed to show it to anyone, I would just zoom in and out of one giant note and modify things on the fly like it was one big editable-Prezi-playground. It made everything so accessible throughout the project.
oneNote

The Full Story

I started the whole project by trying to call around to get lumber prices and was pretty disappointed in how far I got with each call. Every time it was, “Well what exactly do you need?” and apparently a ballpark price for a 20 x 20 ft deck wasn’t exact enough. Then I found Timbertown USA…

The first thing you’ll notice is that they were the first lumber yard whose website wasn’t built in the late 90’s. This site is slick. And I’m not saying that because I’m in marketing and appreciate the work that went into it. I mean it had informative resources on products, deck pattern ideas for those building their own deck, and the aforementioned free CAD tool that helps you walk around your deck in 3D before you ever pick up a drill. If you’d like to see a great lumber yard website, check out TimbertownUSA.com.

Advice: Check with your city codes & HOA before ordering anything. This part might take a few weeks.

The pattern we picked was plan #1 from the 6 Patterns That Will Save You Money pamphlet, called the transition board. It’s simple, but helps break up the monotony of all the boards going the same direction.

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So I work with Timbertown to put together an order and they deliver it a couple days later on my driveway. If you’ve never had lumber delivered to your driveway, prepare to be a little concerned for a few minutes. But ultimately it’s pretty cool to watch and these guys know what they’re doing.

timberTown

They bundle up all the lumber, tilt the bed of the truck back until the wood touches the ground, then pull forward slowly until the wood is on your driveway. I couldn’t imagine a smoother way of doing this without some kind of crane or forklift, but I can’t complain: the wood wasn’t scratched up and it was a fun show.

Advice: Pick out any important boards by hand. Also, if you need to replace any bad boards, go pick out their replacements by hand.

Next, we moved all the wood into the garage to keep it out of the rain. For some reason, Austin got some record rain this year and it was practically all within the 7 weeks I was working on this deck. On several occasions, I set aside a whole day to work outside and ended up shaking my fist at the sky as the downpour forced me to move inside. On one awesome day, my neighbor poked her head over the fence as the rain started up. I was concerned maybe I was making too much noise until she lifted up a big plate of food and said, “You’ve been working hard! Here’s some food to keep you going!” Love those neighbors

IMG_20150530_202507523No rainbows without rain!

Advice: Don’t build the deck in the rain. The wood expands with the water, so if you place things when they’re wet, there will be g a p s when it dries.

Before putting anything into place, you have to line out your frame with mason line. Basically, you use string to line up exactly where the outside edge of your frame is going to go, ensuring that it is square, level, and the right length. That might sound easy, but it took me 3 hours for four strings. There was a lot of adjusting, measuring, “no, slightly higher”…

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Advice: The mason line step is tedious. Plan several hours to get it done right.

Next is when things start to get exciting because you put your first material things in place. We put the long frame boards on the ground close to where they’d be and then brought in the pier blocks. I chose this design because my far smarter friend Sam used this design with his deck and his deck hasn’t had any problems. Plus, they were easy compared to pouring any kind of concrete!

One step that takes a while is getting the boards from the front of your house to the back. Use gloves and plan a few hours for this. In our case, Kristen was really content carrying one 12′ board at a time and she ended up moving more than 2000 lbs. to the back yard over the course of a few hours. What a champ!

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After everything was framed out, we were on the home stretch! Deck boards are relatively fast compared the rest of the project. Here is where that Camo screw system wundergadget really shined. On that particular weekend, my new in-laws came over to help out and we made more progress in those few hours than any time I worked alone. Good company really makes the work fly by. So if you build your own deck, don’t be afraid to invite over good people to help. Just remember the beer.

One really neat trick is to screw down the boards and then cut them instead of the other way around. This makes sure you have a really clean edge and also proved to be a very satisfying step near the end of the project. You drop a chalk line, then get out the circular saw and go to town!

Step 1 – Drop a chalk line
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Step 2 – Get out power tools, but don’t smile maniacally because you’re a modern day wood wizard wielding a 6,000 RPM, tree-slaying dagger-of-doom!
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Step 3 – Saw, baby, saw! 35 boards in 3 minutes, sped up 24x and web optimized for your viewing pleasure!

satisfyingFinish

Most satisfying moment of the whole project

After that, it was painting, assembling furniture, and lots of high fives. The weekend after the deck was finished, we threw a birthday & deck party to help test the structural integrity of the deck. Hahaha, not really, but at one point upwards of 30 people were dancing, eating, or chatting on the deck and it was solid as a rock. A good time was had by all!

I can’t say I’d recommend it to everyone build their own deck, but to those who enjoy that kind of work, it is supremely satisfying to walk out onto that deck every morning know that you took part in building it!

IMG_20150530_201055983Testing structural integrity with standard reverse gravity method. Passed.

Random shots:

IMG_20150611_163140268Max and Stella resting after a long, hard day of watching their humans work outside.

IMG_20150521_075702385One of several trips to Timbertown. Goes much smoother with co-pilots.

proudDogsDogs pose proudly by the new peach tree in the back yard

IMG_20150719_194228573_HDRMom visits and gets a grilled meal!

Eternal Gratitude to…

Wife – Help throughout, including moving a literal ton of wood from the driveway to the backyard, support, and inspiration
Family – Help working on the deck, borrowed tools, support
Friends – Borrowed tools, assembling furniture, support, and deck jokes
Dogs – entertainment & cuddles
Timbertown USA – Fantastic website & marketing,  support, and generous with their advice

Disclaimer: I am not a carpenter or professional deck builder in any capacity. Run your plans by a professional. No drinking then using power tools, but the other order works pretty well.

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