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How To Build a Simple Ground-level Deck

This September why not start a straightforward project with laying a simple deck at ground level?

Here at Thompson & Parkes we will give you a step by step guide for laying it and a shopping list of everything you need that we have in store!

Shopping list

We have come up with a list of tools and materials to include everything you will need to lay a basic, ground level deck.

Everything you need, we stock here at Thompson & Parkes, so pop into our store and we’ll be happy to assist you with anything you require!

To Prepare the Site

  • Tape Measure

  • Builder’s Line or String and Pins

  • Clun Hammer – to drive in the pins

  • Spade

  • Spirit Level

  • Edger

  • Brick Towel

  • Quick drying concrete – if making concreter pads

  • Damp proof course – to sit on the concrete pads

  • Weed Control fabric and pegs

  • Gravel

To lay sub-frame and cut deck boards

  • Decking joists

  • Coach Bolts – 8 or 10mm x length required

  • Coach screws -8 or 10 mm x length required

  • Combi Drill

  • Socket Set – for the coach bolts and screws

  • Panel saw

  • Jigsaw

  • Mitre saw

  • Circular saw

  • Workbench (if necessary)

  • Pencil

  • Decking end grain protector

  • Sandpaper or sander

  • Paint brush

  • Combination Square

To lay timber deck boards

  • Timber Decking Boards

  • Decking Screws

  • Twist and flat wood drill bits

Protective Kit

  • Protective Gloves

  • Rigger Gloves

  • Safety goggles

  • Dust mask

  • Ear plugs

  • Knee pads

  • Decorator gloves

How to prepare a site for decking

The site needs to be properly prepared before you build the deck.

Step 1

Measure out the site according to your plan and hammer a peg into each of the four corners. To help you visualise the site, run a builder’s line from each peg.

Step 2

Clear any weeds, rocks or plants.

Use an edger to cut into the lawn for a straight cut, then remove the turf with a spade.

Make sure you use a straightedge with a spirit level to check that the area is level.

Step 3a

Choose what surface your decking will be laid on. When building on soft ground consider these two options;

  • Concrete pads for stability

  • Straight onto the ground for simplicity

We recommend using concrete pads for stability and longevity.

If you’re laying straight on to the ground skip to Step 3b

If you’re adding the concrete pads

You need to position the concrete pads in the correct places for the deck joists. Work out where the pads are required and dig holes roughly 150mm square and 150mm deep at intervals of 1.2m around the deck.

Fill the holes with quick drying ready to use concrete to just above ground level. Use a spirit level and straight edge to check the pads are level.

When the concrete has completely dried, cover the whole area with weed control fabric and a layer of gravel.

Cut and lay squares of damp-proof course to sit between the concrete and the deck joists.

Step 3b

If you’re laying straight onto the ground

Cover the area in a layer of weed control fabric and then gravel.

How to Cut Deck Boards

Lots of cuts: Use a mitre saw.

A few cuts: Use a panel saw.

Fiddly Cuts: Use a jigsaw.

Deep Cuts: use a panel saw.

Step 1

Measure and mark the deck board at the desired length.

Use a combination square to mark an accurate line across the deck board. Measure twice before cutting.

Step 2: If using a panel saw

Clamp the deck board in a workbench and saw.

Step 2: If using a mitre saw

Position the saw on a flat surface and clamp into place.

Set the saw’s angel for the cut requires. Release the saw so that the deck board can be placed against the saw’s back red and clamped into place.

Step 2: If using a jigsaw

Clamp the deck board, face side up, in a workbench and slowly cut along the line.

Don’t go too fast when using a jigsaw or the cut might not be as straight as you want it.

Step 3

Apply a protective treatment to any cut or recessed timber – be it deck boards, joists or posts before assembling.

How to assemble your sub-frame

These 6 steps explain how to assemble a sub-frame.

Decking will be very heavy do build it on site and remember to measure and cut outer joists the timber will overlap at the corners.

Step 1

Always do a dry run of the decking first.

Lay out the joist frame and position the deck boards on top, creating the necessary deck board expansion gaps.

Timber deck boards require a 5 to 8mm expansion gap along the length of the deck boards and a 3mm gap along the ends of the deck boards.

A gauge screw is an ideal spacer or you could use cuts of wood. Check all the gaps are created are the same.

If the deck boards on the end row over hand the joist frame either reduce or increase the expansion gaps of timber deck boards by the recommended amount.

Work it all out before you cut and assemble the deck frame or add concrete pads.

Step 2

Measure your deck frame and cut to size.

Step 3

Make two pencil marks on each end of the deck frame’s two outer joists. These marks are where the coach screws will go. Make the marks to align with the centre of the adjoining outer joist.

Use a flat wood bit to drill recesses into each of the eight marks. These should be the depth of the screw’s head and wide enough for a rachet or socket attachment to tighten them. Also known as countersunk holes, these recesses ensure the screw heads will be flush with the joist surface for a neat finish.

Step 4

Replace your drill bit for one that is thinner than you coach screw’s shank. Line up adjoining outer joists and drill a pilot hole through the centre of the recess, from the outer joist into the adjoining outer joist. A pilot hole provides a guide to help direct the screws and prevents the screw from splitting the wood.

Step 5

With the pilot holes drilled, it’s now time to fit the coach screws. Use either a socket attachment or a drill driver or socket and ratchet to tighten the coach screws.

You might find it easier to drill and secure a corner at a time.

Step 6

Once the outer frame is assembled and in position, it’s time to secure the inner joists.

Repeat the process to secure two coach screws through the outer frame into each end of all the inner joists.

The spacing of your inner joists is dependent on your chosen decking design.

How to lay timber deck boards

Step 1

Start in one corner of your sub-frame and position the first board across the inner joists, so that the deck board is in the opposite direction to the inner joists. The board should be positioned flush with the frame.

Position any end to end joins between the deck boards halfway across an inner joist so both boards can be screwed into the joist.

Mark a cutting line for the end of the first board and cut it to fit.

Allow an expansion gap of 3mm in your measurements when the boards are butted up end to end.

Step 2

You will now secure your first deck board to the joists.

The deck board has to be secured to every joist it covers over along the sub-frame. Use two decking screws where each board meets a joist.

Mark the screw locations in pencil, ensuring they’re at least 15mm from the end of the board and 20 mm from the outside edges.

You do not need to create recesses or countersunk holes for the deck screws, as they’re designed to create their own recess when screwed down for a flush finish.

We recommend drilling pilot holes for the screws to help prevent the wood from splitting. Select a drill bit for your driver that’s thinner than the deck screw’s shank and drill pilot holes into the pencil marks.

Screw the decking screws into the pilot holes.

If laying grooved deck boards facing upwards, position the screws at the bottom of a groove.

Step 3

With the first row in place, you can now start at the second row – remembering to include the relevant expansion gap between the boards.

Stagger the deck board joins across the deck for greater strength, and arrange them in a regular pattern for an attractive finish.

Step 4

Smooth over any cut ends with a sander or sandpaper if necessary.

Once smoothed down, use a paintbrush to apply an end grain preserver to protect the timber from rot and decay.

Once the preserver is dry, protect your decking further by applying decking stain, oil or wood paint.

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