How It Works

Select the work to be done
Let us know what project you need help with and when you need it done - we'll match you with the right pros for the job.
Compare matched pros
Verify pro credentials, read reviews, ask questions, discuss availability, and request project estimates.
Complete your project
Hire the pro that's right for you and your budget. After the project is complete, let your community know how it went.
Powered by

The Home Depot
Cabinet Contract Flowers Lightning Paintroller Teardrop Toolbox Pin Cross Search Search Arrow Thin Arrow

How to Build a Basic Deck

Pro Referral > Home Guides > Deck & Porch > How to Build a Basic Deck
How to Build a Basic Deck

Table of Contents

  1. Important Terms
  2. Materials
  3. Design and Review
  4. Lumber List
  5. Attaching the Ledger
  6. Locating Concrete Footings
  7. Installing Concrete Footings
  8. Installing Posts and Related Hardware
  9. Installing Post Beams
  10. Installing Outside or Rim Joists
  11. Installing Joists (Hanger Hardware Installation)
  12. Installing Decking
  13. Installing Stairs
  14. Installing a Basic Rail
  15. Conclusion

When you hear the word “deck,” don’t you imagine yourself manning a Commando 4000, grilling up for a host of friends and family? There is probably no other single home element that says “Outdoor Living” like a deck.


Building a basic rectangular deck is an approachable project that can be accomplished without hiring a professional. But as deck design becomes more complex, in terms of a size, shape, and features, you may however consider hiring that pro.


Many municipalities allow for do-it-yourself deck building, given codes are closely followed and proper permits are secured. The permitting and inspection process can add substantial time to the project, but it is absolutely necessary to ensure that your new structure remains safe and stable for years.


    1. Important Terms

    There are some specific terms used when discussing the anatomy of a deck. Each serves a specific function, but all work together in a "knee bone connected to..." manner. Some of the important terms you’ll need to acquaint yourself with include:


    • • Ledger: The framing unit connecting the deck structure to the home.
    • • Footers: Underground concrete pads transferring the weight of the deck to solid ground.
    • • Piers: Vertically-oriented concrete supports resting on footers.
    • • Posts: The vertical members of a deck structure transferring weight from beams downward to footings (also known as a pier).
    • • Beams: Horizontal members supporting joists.
    • • Joists: Framing lumber in a floor or deck system.
    • • Rim Joists: Including both header and outside joists, nailed at ends to inside joists.
    • • Decking: The fundamental feature of any deck. The deck's flooring, which attaches to the deck's joist system.

    2. Materials

    Materials introduced in recent decades--composites, vinyl, and PVC specifically, have changed our approach to deck building. The most traditional solution is wood, with cedar and redwood both being very widely used. Exotic woods like ipe or teak have also grown in popularity in recent years.


    While these materials may replace elements like decking boards or rail materials, the structural elements remain pretty consistent regardless of how we choose to skin the deck. While some pros may opt for steel in building the structural elements of decks, pressure treated pine remains the go to for exterior framing. Any material used in the decking structure must be categorized as rot-resistant.


    While decks can come in a wide variety of a shapes and sizes, installed at an inside corner (with two ledger connections), multi-tier, or even low profile, our deck project here will focus on a basic deck, three feet or so off the ground, and open on three sides. It will have both a rail (as required with any structure 30" from the ground) and an attached set of stairs leading to grade.


    Tools Materials Skill Level Estimated Time
    • Calculator • Decking material Advanced 3 to 6 days
    • Pencil • Pressure-treated lumber (see lumber list below)
    • Framing square (combination and speed) • 2x2s and 2x4s
    • Circular saw, reciprocating saw, chop or miter saw • Tree or landscaping stakes
    • Hand saw • Z-flashing (for deck ledger)
    • Levels (two-, four-, six-foot, torpedo and line level or laser level) • Tubular concrete forms, 12"
    • Drill driver (with bits specified below) • High-Strength concrete
    • Hammer (or pneumatic nailer) • 6x6 Post base brackets (with j-bolts or other anchoring hardware)
    • Rubber mallet or mull • Galvanized joist hangers, angle and sloped hangers, and miscellaneous ties
    • Ratcheting wrench • Joist hanger nails, 10d
    • Aviator snips • ½”x6" Galvanized carriage bolts (2 per post) with washer and nuts
    • Awl (and chisel) • 1/2"x5", 6” Lag bolts (for ledger connection)
    • Masonry string • 1/2"x 6" Carriage bolts (for rail posts)
    • Plumb bob • 2 1/2", 3", 3 1/2" #8 and #10 Deck screws
    • Pipe or bar clamps • 10d Galvanized box nails, 16d galvanized common nails
    • Shovel • 10d, 16 Finish nails (or 2 1/4" galvanized trim screws)
    • Wheelbarrow • Copper-based wood preservative
    • Power auger (or post hole digger) • Silicone caulk (or better)
    • Miscellaneous landscaping tools • Post caps

    Deck building is one of the most heavily scrutinized building activities. Code requirements change frequently, but an authoritative resource on the matter can be found in the DCA 6–Prescriptive Residential Deck Construction, published by the American Wood Council. It is important to familiarize yourself with this resource before you even consider designing or building your own deck.


    Try to think of your deck as a room in your house. Further think of the decking itself as a floor, your deck’s rails as walls. Your deck is a load bearing structure and should be designed and installed such that it is a permanent addition to the home, withstanding anything that you could potentially throw at or on it.


    In most municipalities, you will need to submit drawings and gain approval before beginning construction. Plan to be in touch frequently with your local building department; your local building inspector, specifically, can be a great asset during the project.


    3. Design and Review

    Almost without exception, your deck build will require approval from a local building department (before, during, and sometimes after construction). Specific plans are documented in drawings and are submitted for review before any actual building begins. If plans are approved, you can expect to be issued a permit (for a fee). In most municipalities, building inspectors will visit the site at different phases of construction. Inspector's visits are often timed such that their approval begins the subsequent phases of the build.


    While the required detail for drawings may vary from region to region, it is commonly accepted that the more complex the structure, the more detail is needed in plans. In general, a set of drawings could include an overhead framing plan, a side elevation, and a beam or joinery detail. Unique elements like a complex railing design, benches and a custom skirting detail could also be required. While some locales will accept hand-drawn documents (pen and graph paper), others may require the production of plans using a professional-grade software package.


    Regardless of their production, expect drawings to include the following information: 1) Overall size of the deck; 2) Position of the deck relative to other structures; 3) Location of footings, beams, and posts; 4) Size and spacing of joists; 5) Thickness of deck boards; 6) Height of deck off the ground; 7) Detail of flashing, fastening, and connection methods; 8) Soil type, grade, and condition at footing locations; 9) Species of wood to be used; 10) Types and grades of hardware to be used.


    While that act of developing plans can itself be creative, the final deck design can be somewhat limited due simply to sound building practices. A few important keys to keep in mind as you plan: 1) The overall length of the deck must be equal to or less than the width; 2) The allowable spans based on the size and wood species being used including cantilever of joists over beams; 3) Beam size and length; 4) The location of natural obstructions or existing building units, like windows and doors; 5) Other local specifics, including: beam construction and connection, footing diameter and depth (based on expected loads and soil condition at the footing locations), and lateral support requirements including bridging or the need for post braces.


    Good plans yield the added benefit of allowing for the accurate "take-off" of materials, used in subsequent ordering. Because the material requirements for a deck project are relatively expansive, plan for delivery of materials. Make logistic arrangements, perhaps coordinating neighbors, to ensure that drivers have access to the jobsite and that materials can be unloaded and stored both safely and near enough to the build location.


    4. Lumber List

    The lumber list for a deck three and half feet off the ground and measuring 12 feet wide by 10 feet long may look something like this. (pt = pressure treated pine.)


    • • (4) 2x10x12 pt. Ledger, beam boards and header joist
    • • (2) 6x6x8 pt. Deck posts
    • • (10) 2x8x10 pt. Joists, including the end or outside joists
    • • (22) 1x6 or 5/4x6. Decking material
    • • (3) 2x6x12 pt. Rail cap
    • • (6-8) 4x4x8 pt. Rail and stair posts
    • • (3) 2x12x8 pt. Stair stringers
    • • (6) 1x6x6 or 5/4x6x6. Stair treads
    • • (32) 2x2x8 pt. Balusters
    • • (4) 2x4x12 pt. Top rail, including stair rail
    • • (1) 2x4x10 pt. Bottom stair rail

    5. Attaching the Ledger

    Attaching the ledger board may require cutting back or modifying the cladding material on the home's existing structure. This may or may not require matching or replacing some portion of the home's siding material. Because of this, take care in removal and always make the effort to reuse materials.


    The DCA 6 contains ever-evolving best practices for ledger connection. Perhaps rightly so--the ledger historically has been a common point of failure in decks. Before you proceed, review that documentation and identify the most up-to-date connection schedule. In a nutshell, the ledger (in an ideal world) is lagged (or bolted) to the home’s framing, its top edge roughly an inch or two below the interior’s finished floor.


    Like other framing in our deck, we will select pressure treated lumber for our ledger. The ledger’s width will match your joist selection (2x10 in our example).


    Cut your ledger exactly to length using a circular saw. Remember the ledger will accept the width of your rim joists at their edge. Locate the ledger on the home and mark a level line appropriately. If siding is to be cut back, do so at this point. Our ledger will receive a galvanized z-flashing, which is designed to install behind siding. Plan accordingly, and remove enough siding to accommodate the ledger flashing.


    Use short lengths of 2x4 to temporarily support your ledger at the level line. Tack the ledger in multiple locations along its length, perhaps with duplex nails. Optionally, install a thick bead of silicone caulk (or better) at the top edge of the ledger. Cut z-flashing using aviator snips such that it extends a ½” or so beyond the ledger at each end. Secure the ledger to the structure following the schedule prescribed by the DCA 6.


    In general, ½” lag screws are used to secure the ledger to the home’s band board. Lags are set a minimum of two inches from any edge and are installed on a stagger. Ledger boards are pre-drilled with a ½” bit, but the pre-drill penetration into the home’s structure may not exceed 5/16”. Pre-drill first with a 5/16” bit, and then complete the pre-drilling on the ledger board only with a ½” twist bit. Apply a bead of silicone caulk to the top edge of the ledger and complete the installation of the ledger’s z-flashing.


    Note: Many municipalities will require an inspection at this point.


    By installing the ledger, we set the elevation of our deck aiding us in establishing both square and level layout in relation to the house.


    6. Locating Concrete Footings

    Prior to digging, it is always a good idea to have a utility check performed. Either working directly with local utilities or with a third-party locating service, these checks help identify, and further, avoid buried water, electric, communications, and gas lines during construction.


    Footings and corresponding beams sitting atop them are typically placed at a point such that the deck joist system rides out, or cantilevers, beyond the footing location. Cantilevers can span no more than two feet beyond beams.


    Assemblies called “batter boards” may or may not be used to create points of reference when laying out footings. Every municipality (barring perhaps a strange anomaly) will require one or more inspections during the process of installing footings.


    Exactness is key when locating footings. Using your drawings, identify the overall dimension and distance of the outside edges of the deck. Working at the ledger, measure in the distance from the outside edge of the deck to the outside footing(s); this should be roughly about a foot. Do this for both sides of the deck. Mark a reference line on the ledger at each location. Tap a 10d finish nail into the bottom of the ledger board at each reference point.


    Use your plans to align with the center of your planned footing, and measure from the ledger to the far (outside or leading) point of the deck. Drive a batter-board assembly into the ground at the center point at this location (roughly two-feet beyond your proposed footing). Drive batter boards into the ground such that the tops finish roughly level with the bottom edge of the ledger. Tap a 10d finish nail into the center point at the top of each batter board. Repeat for both planned outside footings.


    Extend masonry string from each 10d nail pairing such that the string is both taut and squared to the installed ledger. Check for square using the 3-4-5 carpenter’s triangle method. To check the height of your batter boards, remove your masonry string and install a line level. Adjust if necessary. The top of your batter boards will represent the top plane of your installed beam.


    Measure from the ledger to the locations of footings, and mark this point using a piece of tape. Using these markings, pair a third and fourth batter-board assemblies on right angles with the first two (again roughly two-feet from your proposed footing location). Drive additional 10d nails into the top of these batter boards such that they are in line with your taped markings.


    Run a third string from the outside batter boards. This third string should be held parallel to the ledger and creates two intersections from which we'll locate our outside footings. (Additional batter boards and masonry strings can be added for intermediate footings as desired.)


    Check your layout by taking diagonal measurements. Measure first from your original ledger reference line (at one corner) to the opposite side’s string intersection. Repeat for the other diagonal. If these two measurements are exactly equal, you are in square and are okay to proceed.


    Drop a plumb bob from the intersections in the masonry strings at the footing locations. Mark the grade using a landscaping stake or marking paint. Identify intermediate footing locations using similar methods or simply measuring according to plan from these now staked locations.


    7. Installing Concrete Footings

    The size and number of footings and corresponding piers (and posts) will be dictated by soil conditions, the size of the deck, and the deck's expected load. For most decks, footings will be placed around six-foot centers.


    The act of trenching for footers can be made much easier with the use of a power auger. Basically large, standing drills fitted with a large twist bits, power augers can be rented at local building centers. Trenches should be centered on our staking located above.


    Try to think of this process as having two parts. First, we strive to establish a footer on stable, compacted, i.e. virgin soil. Second, we create a pier that then transfers the weight posts' bear down to the footer. Together, they represent "the footing" in causal terms.


    Required dimensions for footings may vary based on local building codes. Generally, when trenching for footers, we dig at least 12” deep or to the frost line, whichever is closer, plus eight to sixteen inches. Trenches are dug wide enough to accommodate an appropriate footer required by the DCA 6. In our example, we will “pour” first a square concrete footer, and then complete using 12” tube-shaped, fiberboard forms.


    Following manufacturer recommendations for mixing high-strength concrete to form your square pad to requirements. In many areas, inspections will be required before and after the footer is formed.


    Tubular forms are cut using a hand saw (or reciprocating saw) to height of the trench, plus about two-inches, but minus the depth of the required footer. We add two inches to the forms height to keep the pier above grade, minimizing our posts' contact with soil and moisture.


    Install the tubular form and proceed with pouring into the form, persuading high-strength concrete into the tubular form using a shovel, agitating if required. Using the end of a 2x4, tamp the concrete mix to remove air bubbles as you fill. Note: Some municipalities may require the addition of rebar to the footers and piers. Level off the "pour" by screeding across its top with a short 2x4 tipped up on a slight angle.


    While there is a wide array of hardware choices, a common post bracket assembly would require installing an anchoring j-bolt into the concrete at this point. Follow the hardware manufacturer's instructions, but typically the threads found on this bolt should finish above the concrete between one and two inches.


    If desired, you can recheck your bolt locations using a plumb bob, again dropped from your masonry string. Use a small torpedo level to check the plumbness on your j-bolts. As your concrete cures, break down your batter board assemblies.


    Note: The DCA 6 details several alternative methods for installing footings, and further, posts. Always check with your building inspector to verify that your selected method is allowed. This includes bell-shaped pier forms meant to ease this process.


    8. Installing Posts and Related Hardware

    Posts support the beam that will then support our deck joists. Posts are installed in anchor brackets bolted to our concrete footings. These specialty brackets create a standoff, allowing water and moisture at the base of posts to drain effectively.


    Once piers have cured, and all appropriate inspections have been received, install post brackets. Brackets are tightened down to the j-bolts installed above using a washered nut and an appropriately sized ratchet wrench.


    Lay your longest and straightest 2x4 across all footings such that it touches the edges of installed j-bolts. Use a pencil to draw a reference line for each footing; we'll use this line as a guide. A small framing square is then used to position the post brackets. Make sure that your brackets are perfectly perpendicular to the reference line.


    Using your plans as a reference, cut posts to length. At this point, add six inches to each cut. Plan to use a circular saw aided by a speed square to make cuts. (Alternatively cut on a 12" chop saw.) All cuts should be perfectly square, and any cuts in pressure treated material should be treated with wood preservatives. Considering variations in grade will either add or remove height from posts; it is best to cut each post as it will be set.


    Some brackets require more assembly than others. Complete any assembly of your brackets according to hardware manufacturer requirements and set new cut posts. For now, tack each post in place with one (two maximum) 10d joist hanger nails.


    Consider bracing posts temporarily. Drive two landscape stakes into the ground at a right angle, each about a foot to the clear side of footings. Use one or two scrap pieces of 1x or 2x material to brace from the post's center down to landscaping stakes. Use a single deck screw to attach bracing. Braces should hold posts plumb front to back and side to side. These braces will later be disassembled.


    Plumb posts using a four-foot level. Finish attaching brackets to posts using appropriate joist hanger nails. In most cases, it is best practice to fill all holes in post brackets.


    Resting your longest and straightest 2x4 on top of your ledger, place a six-foot level on top of this 2x4. Transfer this level line from the ledger to each of your outside posts. The bottom edge of this board will represent the top edge of your joists. Using a combination or speed square apply your level line marking on all four sides of the posts. Measure down from this line the exact dimension of your joists, as found on your plans. Wrap these markings around the post, as you've done above. This second line will represent the top of your beam. Measure down and repeat for the bottom edge of your beam.


    9. Installing Post Beams

    Post beams attach to posts and help support the weight of the joists and ultimately the deck. Beams can be installed in a variety of ways, but local codes may restrict which type you may install. Historically, the three most common types of beam construction are sandwich-type (no longer allowed without notching via DCA 6), saddle-type, and notched-post. Combinations of these types may also be seen. For our discussion, and since we are now required to employ 6x6 posts, we will perform a notched-post beam installation.


    Angle post-to-beam braces can be added to any type of beam installation for additional lateral support and for a decorative finishing value. Posts taller than two-feet will require them, but they are now not prohibited on center posts.


    According to plans, measure and cut your beam material. In each type listed above, we'll be cutting and using two boards to construct the beam. With "crowns" aligned, assemble according to the prescriptions found in the DCA 6. As a rule of thumb, the beam will be ganged together using #10 3" deck screws installed on a stagger in two rows. Spacing on fastening generally does not exceed 16”.


    Posts are cut at this point to its final height, i.e. in this case, the top of the beam. Trace a 3" by 9 1/4" for the notch at leading or outside face of the post, up and over the post using a combination square. (Always check the actual dimension of the material you are using before you cut.) Use a circular saw to make the rough cuts, perhaps employing a jig or scrap material clamped to the post. Finish the notching using a reciprocating saw, hand saw, or multi-tool. (Alternatively, plan ahead when setting posts, and make these notches before installing posts.) Repeat for all posts and seal notches with wood preservative.


    With the help of an assistant, seat the beam in these notches crown side up. Adjusting side to side, such the beam extends an equal distance from the outside posts. Any beam splice must share resting at an inside post.


    Counterbore to a 1/2" deep from the inside of the post at your bolt locations with a 1” spade bit. You will be installing two corrosion resistant carriage bolts spaced by about four inches at each post. The top bolt should be installed two inches from the beam’s top edge. At the center of each counterbore, drill ½” holes using a ½” auger and boring bit. Pass through the entire beam and post assembly. Pass ½” by 6" carriage bolts from the outside of your beam through each pilot hole, finishing as such that the 1" washer and nut seats into the counterbores.


    Beams should be installed flush with posts. Add blocking between joists at the point immediately above the inside member of the overhanging beam. Blocking is alternately side-nailed and hung from joist hanger brackets. These connections can be reinforced using galvanized joist ties. Post to beam connections can also be further reinforced with post ties. Remove any temporary post bracing at this point.


    10. Installing Outside or Rim Joists

    Use your plans to find the length of outside and header joists (aka rim joists). Remember that the header joist is a mirror of the ledger, frames the rest of the frame, and will be cut longer than the common joists. Cut with a circular saw and seal cut ends with wood preservative.


    With the assistance of a helper, set the outside joists at the ledger, perhaps using a scrap 2x4 as a prop. Toenail these joists into the set beam using 16d galvanized nails. Pre-drill three 1/16" pilot holes in the header joist's outside face at the outside joist locations. Attach the header joist to each outside joist with three 16d galvanized framing nails. Reinforce all corners with angle hanger brackets, assembling with appropriate bracket fasteners.


    11. Installing Joists (Hanger Hardware Installation)

    As footings support posts, posts support beams, and beams support joists, joists in turn, support our decking. Deck design, including materials specified and board orientation, may have an impact on joist spacing. Our simple 12'x10' deck, using pressure treated 1x or 5/4x material for decking, would utilize a 16" on-center joist spacing.


    Plans will not only help you identify the length of rim joists, they too will dictate common, inner joist length. To save time, cut all joists with a circular saw in an assembly line fashion.


    Measure and outline joist positions along both the ledger and the header joist. Similarly measure along the beam to find the locations where joists will rest. Precision in this step is required.


    Position joist hangers at the joist layout locations, and nail the flanges both to the ledger and to the header joist, using 10d joist hanger nails. Tip: Employ a scrap piece of lumber with a length that matches the inside distance of your joist space to assist with layout and marking. Similarly use a scrap cut from a joist, inserted into each hanger to ensure that hangers do not compress or otherwise deform as they are attached to the ledger and the header rim.


    With a help of an assistant, align joists with the markings made on the beam. Working one side to the other, inserts joists crown side up into hanger brackets. Nail off all holes at all brackets. Toenail joists to your beam using 16d galvanized nails, two nails on one side, one or the other. (Alternatively, galvanized strap tie-downs can be employed at these joist-to-beam insertions.)


    Joists can be laterally reinforced with cross bracing, blocking, or bridging. While good building practice, some municipalities may require it. Return to the header joist and complete prescriptive nailing three 10d galvanized nails or better per joist end.


    12. Installing Decking

    If possibly, purchase deck boards long enough to span the full width of the deck. In a simple installation, deck boards are set perpendicular to joists. If cuts are required, and boards must be butted, ensure that these seams are staggered throughout the deck field. Seams should fall at joists, and should be pre-drilled prior to fastening.


    If employing traditional materials such as pressure treated wood, install boards such that there is a 1/8" spacing between deck boards. This will provide for drainage on a low deck and will help improve the life of deck boards. There have been many recent product advancements, including "hidden" fasteners, providing a range of options in deck material fastening. Anti-mushrooming screws are required for many of the engineered decking materials. In our installation, we will simply face-fasten our deck boards using ceramic-coated #8 deck screws.


    Setting the first board is likely the most important step in this phase. Use your straightest, most perfect board for your first board. This first deck board is set at house, and all others will then key from it. Attach decking to joists using minimum two, 2 1/2" deck screws. While these screws are designed to "self-tap," it is always best practice to pre-drill. Tip: To aid with screw placement, stop every three to four rows and run a faint pencil line across the face of the boards using a framing or T-square. With material 5 1/2" wide, screws are inset from each edge about 1 3/4" inches.


    Place remaining deck boards, leaving a 1/8" gap at boards. Adjusting spacing slightly across a set of three or four boards can accommodate the placement of full width boards throughout the entirety of the installation. To aid with spacing, employ one or more scrap pieces of wood 1/8" thick (perhaps found in the lumber load), 16d box nails, tile spacers, or other deck spacers specifically made for this application.


    While you can install all deck boards long, choosing to cut overhangs later with a circular saw, it may be safer to again pre-cut all required deck boards. Optionally, you can pre-drill locations where the decking will be mounted to the rim joists.


    Once completely installed, the decking can be wrapped with a skirt board--extending from the surface of the deck to the bottom of the rim joist. Attach skirt boards to the rim joists using stainless trim screws.


    13. Installing Stairs

    Building deck stairs is a separate project in and of itself. Follow codes specific to stair construction, also found in the DCA 6. Align stairs with a pre-planned opening in the deck railing. Attach stringers to the deck structure using appropriate hardware.


    14. Installing a Basic Rail

    Rail design can vary greatly, and rails, in fact, can be a great opportunity to add unique detail. Many of the decisions required for your rail installation will likely be thought out and approved in conjunction with the deck design.


    Some rail systems can be built around an integrated post design. In our simple deck build, we will add rails as an independent system. Code requires that railings are attached to framing, not decking. Rails must extend 36" above the finished deck surface.


    Cut posts to height. For railing posts, we will be employing 4x4 material. The height in our case will be decided by total rail height, plus two inches. Add the width of your skirt or rim board to the length of posts. Cut posts square at their top; in our design, we'll cut the bottom of each post to a 45 degree angle. Measure two inches up from the bottom of the post, drill two holes spaced four inches apart. We will center and drill 1/2" pilot holes. Similar to attaching the beam above, we'll also counterbore to a depth about 1/2" with a 1" spade bit.


    For our rail system, we'll be using 2x2 material for our balusters. Cut tops of balusters square using a miter saw, but add a 45 degree cut at the bottom of each. Measure two inches from each end, and drill two 1/16" pilot holes spaced four inches apart.


    Posts in a rail system may not be set more than six feet apart. You'll typically add two posts squared at each outside corner, and one at each side of the opening for your stair steps. Mark posts locations on the deck’s rim using a combination or speed square.


    Dry fit the posts at the post locations such that the bottom edge of the post is set flush with the bottom edge of the deck's rim. Plumb posts using a four-foot level.


    With the help of a friend, hold the post in place, and send an awl through the pre-drilling you executed above. Pre-drill four bolt locations in the rim boards by running a 1/2" bit through the marked locations. Attach posts to deck framing using 1/2" x 6” carriage bolts. For posts installed on rims parallel with joists, blocking or equivalent hold-down anchors must be provided.


    The top rail in our system will utilize 2x4s (no bottom rail is present in our design). Cut rail lengths flush with the far end of posts. For longer spans, scarf, or miter cut locations when two pieces meet. Pre-drill and attach rails to posts using 2 1/2" deck screws.


    Measure from the deck to the top rail; this will give you the height required for stairway rails. Transfer this rail height to the stairs’ lower post, measuring up from the stairs’ bottom tread. Stairway rails will be installed parallel with the deck treads’ pitch. While the stair rail may be installed during the deck stairs installation, it may be better to install the stairway rail at this point.


    Balusters are spaced between three to four inches apart. Adjust the layout by a fraction of an inch or less such that spacing is consistent around the entire deck. Once the final placement of balusters is determined, it may be worthwhile to cut a scrap piece of 2x (or two) to use as a template in setting balusters.


    Clamp a straight and long 2x2 flush with the bottom edge of the deck's rim. The bottom edge of balusters is held tight to this jig. Set the top of the baluster flush with the top of rail. Use a two-foot level to check plumb while fastening screws. Balusters may be attached with 2 1/2" decking screws or 16d common nails.


    Install the rail’s top cap, typically a 2x6 or equivalent laid flat at top of the rail assembly. Pre-drill and install with 2 1/2" decking screws spaced every 12". Multiple screws may be driven at posts. As a rule of thumb, set a screw every third baluster. On longer runs, miter cut ends that will need to mate. Pre-drill with a 1/16" bit and install with 2 1/2" decking screws.


    15. Conclusion

    This article lays out a basic deck build only. You can add details like mortise locking or bridging to add structural integrity.


    While many of the individual steps found within the project require only an intermediate skill level, the number of steps and the importance of each make deck building an advanced project.


    If you hire a deck build pro, they can help you plan and design the deck build, as well as navigate the intricacies of local building requirements.


    16. Deck Building Services

    Don’t have the time or the experience to build a deck on your own? Don’t hesitate to contact a Pro to carry out your deck building project. Each Pro is background checked and licensed and insured so that you can hire with confidence. Read the customer reviews, credentials, and business profiles of all of our Pros and let a qualified professional turn a difficult project into a completed one!

Find Deck Build Pros

Get your home project started today with help from Pro Referral’s qualified network of pre-screened and background-checked professionals available in your neighborhood.

Get Expert Advice

Submit your toughest home improvement questions to our knowledgeable experts and receive free personalized solutions, product recommendations, how-to advice, and more–all within 24 hours or less.