Small deck in front of new house. Budget Deck:

Building A Basic Deck
Part 2 - Deck Planks, Handrail, Stairs

In This Article: Related Articles:
Skill Level: 2 (Basic) Time Taken: 12 Man-Hours  (2 People, 6 hours)

By , Editor

Installing The Deck Boards:

We used 5/4 x 6 pressure-treated planks for the deck surface. Each piece was cut to 72" (half of a 12' long board). In fact, the entire framing of this deck was designed so we could use the lumber efficiently with a minimum of waste. If we had made the deck slightly bigger, we would have been forced to use 14' lumber, or install the deck boards with some smaller pieces, which is a nuisance.

The first deck plank had to be notched to fit around the deck posts. We cut the notches with a jig saw.

We used 2-1/2" galvanized deck screws to install them.

A note on gaps: The contractor building this house did not want gaps between the deck boards. Many builders create a small gap between boards, using a large nail to space adjacent boards as they are installed. Eventually the lumber will shrink as it dries out, and gaps may form anyway. If a gap of about 1/8" is used, then a slight widening will not be noticed. HammerZone prefers gaps.

 The decking installs quickly...

...until a piece has to be notched to fit around a post. We pre-drilled holes for the screws in the ends of these boards, to prevent the small tail from breaking off.


Warped deck board with uneven gap.

The pace of installation slows when a warped board comes along.

There are many ways to straighten a curved deck board. We chose to temporarily attach another deck board and hammer a pry-bar into the gap to force the warped plank into compliance.

Straighten warped deck board during installation, using crow bar.

This technique would be frowned upon by many carpenters because it takes too much time (about 3 minutes) and may leave a dent in the edge of the deck board. There are special tools available that grab the joist and push on the deck board. But for this job, we had only 3 warped planks, so we just accepted our less-than-perfect approach.

The final deck board had to be ripped to a narrower width using a circular saw, and it had to be notched for the posts.

The deck surface is complete, all that remains to be done is the hand rail and the stairs. The posts were cut off 32" above the deck.


Building The Hand Rail:

Building a simple deck handrail.

 The first step was to attach a 2x4 to the outsides of the posts.

On the right-hand side, there is an opening for the stairs.


Simple deck handrail with 2x4 fastened vertically and 2x6 laying flat.

The hand rail design is simple:

  • A 2x4 mounted vertically, on the outside of the posts.
  • And a 2x6 laying on top, overhanging about 1/2" on the outside.


There was one corner that required a miter joint.

In order to get a clean miter joint we connected the two top boards together before securing them to the structure below.

Mitered corner in top boards of deck handrail.


The miter joint was connected using two 3" deck screws. These held quite firmly until the top was attached to the posts.

Another view. Note the overhang.


 The top assembly was positioned and attached, working from one end to the other.

With the mitered joint attached to the structure, we could force the 2x6 into position without causing the gap to open.


Then we installed the hand rail spindles (more properly called balusters). These are pre-cut, square spindles with a simple 45 degree angle on each end. We pre-drilled two holes in each end, and secured them with 2-1/2" deck screws.

We installed the end spindles and then laid out the in-between spindles so they would all be evenly spaced.

WARNING: Spindle Spacing May Be Important!

Most building codes require that the gap between railing spindles be 4 inches or less. This is to prevent a small child from getting his or her head stuck between spindles. Our building department told us that because the decks were so close to the ground, they 1) did not require hand rails and 2) if we chose to install hand rails, that the spindle spacing rules were not applicable. Sounds strange. HammerZone recommends using the safest approach. Consult your local building department if you plan on building a deck. Even if a permit is not required, it is prudent to meet or exceed the local building codes.

Installing The Stairs:

Prior to beginning this task, we installed a 2x6 face board for the tops of the stair stringers to rest against. This face board lay just below the deck joist, as seen in the right hand picture below.

 We bought pre-cut stair stringers. Since our deck was so low, we only needed two risers, so we cut off one riser.

We used three stringers. We laid out the stringer positions and marked the face of the deck where they would attach.

Laying out stairs can be complicated. Stairs are one of the trickiest jobs for many carpenters. In this case we could raise or lower the soil to make our two-step stringers work. The red mark seen above is important. The top of the red box is 7.25" below the top of the deck joists. 7.25" is the height of each riser in the pre-cut stair stringers.

We clamped a block of wood (called a cleat) to the face and secured it with 3" deck screws.

Then we dug a small hole, placed a concrete paver, and installed the stringer with four 3" deck screws.

Notes: Getting the hole depth just right required some trial-and-error digging and filling. When filling the hole, the soil must be packed down (we used the concrete block as a tamper) or the stairs will settle over time.

We pre-drilled all the holes in these pieces of wood, to prevent splitting. Splitting is very common when driving nails or screws so close to the ends.

Two of the four screws were angled to reach into the face.

The three stringers are installed, ready for the deck planks.

Three stringers were needed because the 5/4 x 6 deck boards would not be strong enough to span 32 inches without excessive deflection (springiness). Had we chosen to use 2x6 boards for the stair treads then two stringers would have been adequate.

Deck stair stringers.

We spaced the outer stringers 32" apart, so that our 36" long treads would have a small overhang, which looks better.

The treads installed. Very simple


For more information about figuring out stair dimensions, read our article about Designing Stairs...

Stair dimensions for stringer layout.


The tread overhang was about 2 inches.

The completed deck.

A Note On Finishing Touches: We used a power sander to remove the rough edges from all the boards, especially the ends. We used a belt sander, but almost any power sander would work. Children like to run their hands over surfaces and corners and sanding the rough edges might reduce the chances of someone getting a nasty sliver.

Related Info:

California Redwood Association
Redwood info, lumber dealer locator, deck info, project plans, and free literature in PDF format.


Tools Used:

  • Cordless Drill/Drivers
  • Circular Saw
  • Jig Saw
  • Power Miter Saw
  • "Quick-Grip" Clamps


Materials Used:

  • Pressure-Treated Lumber:
  • 5/4x6 Deck Boards
  • 2x4 Hand Rail
  • 2x6 Hand Rail Cap
  • Deck Balusters (Spindles)
  • Pre-Cut Stair Stringers
  • 3" Deck Screws

Back To Top Of Page 


Before You Hurt Yourself,  Read our Disclaimer.

Search Page

Home  What's New  Project Archives  H.I. World

 Rants  Contact Us






Copyright 1999, 2005

Written August 22, 1999
Revised January 5, 2005